Sullivan Sums Up Palin

I cannot resist reproducing Andrew Sullivan’s post in full, since it so well encapsulates my response to Palin’s speech this morning:

The leader of the GOP base has told us a lot today. She has told us two things. She can see absolutely nothing awry in the inflammatory and violent rhetoric she and others have deployed so aggressively in the past two years. Nothing. The attempted assassination of a congresswoman after relentless demonization of her, after her opponent brandished an M-16 at a campaign rally, after a brick was thrown through her campaign window, after she personally complained about Palin’s own metaphorical cross-hairs on her … this is an utterly, totally, completely irrelevant set of events:

Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.

Really? So why was it in any way relevant that Barack Obama was “palling around with terrorists”? If the acts of the radical left began and ended with them alone, why was Palin so insistent in the campaign on linking Obama to the Weather Underground – even though he’d met them decades after their crimes?

Then there is the usual shocking and inflammatory language. At a time when nerves are truly frayed, when blood lies on the ground, Palin offers us this:

Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.

Notice the paranoid and conspiratorial word: “manufacture.” Now recall what actually happened, which is that a congresswoman was shot through the head after being subjected to extraordinary levels of hatred and demonization and threats. Because that very congresswoman had herself complained at the time of the “consequences” of Palin’s metaphorical use of cross-hairs, reporters, bloggers and regular human beings on Facebook made that obvious connection.

There was nothing “manufactured” about this. It was the most obvious set of observations to be made in the immediate aftermath. To call this understandable concern about the impact of violent rhetoric and imagery on disturbed minds a manufactured “blood libel” – equating critics of extreme rhetoric of being the equivalent of Nazis or medieval anti-Semites – is to up the ante at a time when leaders really need to calm emotions. We know this much right now: Palin does not possess the self-awareness, responsibility or composure to respond to crises like this with grace. This message – even at a time of national crisis – was a base-rousing rallying cry, perpetuating her own victimhood and alleged bloodthirstiness of her opponents.

One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn’t you? If you had publicly defended a map with cross-hairs on a congresswoman’s district, and that congresswoman had subsequently been shot, would you not be able to express even some measure of regret at what has taken place, even while denying, rightly, any actual guilt? Could you not even acknowledge the possibility that your critics have and had a point, including the chief Palin-critic on this, who happens to be struggling for her life in hospital, Gabrielle Giffords.

But no. That would require acknowledging misjudgment. Palin cannot acknowledge misjudgment, as she cannot admit error. It would require rising to an occasion, rather than sinking to it. And to moderate that tone, to acknowledge that one can make an error, to defend oneself from unfair accusations while acknowledging the need for a calmer discourse in future – this is beyond her.

It is, of course, also her strategy. She can only win in a hugely polarized country. She has as little support outside the Republican base as she has a cult following within it. And she has decided that this occasion for introspection is actually an opportunity to double down.

There is something menacing about that.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Nicoline Smits

    I suppose it’s too late to believe that she’ll go away if we just ignore her?

  • godlizard

    Disclaimer: I’m a liberal, in fact I’m extremely liberal. But I was never one of the voices demanding apologies from Sarah Palin, because I did not see any direct (or even a substantial indirect) connection between Palin’s particular brand of violent imagery and Loughner’s incoherent, paranoid ramblings. My opinion on this is unpopular amongst my fellow liberals, and I am not entirely comfortable sounding eerily like many voices on the right, but I will not cave in and agree with the people I usually agree with just because I usually agree with them.

    Wow, that was a long disclaimer.

    That being said, I think Sarah Palin handled the whole thing poorly. If there wasn’t anything wrong with the target map why did she delete that website within hours after the tragedy? And since she did delete it, why did she take the position she did in her speech, that nothing wrong was done? Why did she use the phrase “blood libel” — did she understand what it really meant, or did she just think it sounded good? I would like clarification on that because if she’s implying an equivalence between the media wanting her to apologize, and people accusing Jews of sacrificing children for blood … well, I would not even know what to say about that.

    And finally, I must admit I really enjoyed that long pause, those five days of Sarah-less-ness, not a tweet, not a peep. It was SO lovely not hearing from her. She just annoys me.

  • Daniel Fincke

    My opinion on this is unpopular amongst my fellow liberals, and I am not entirely comfortable sounding eerily like many voices on the right, but I will not cave in and agree with the people I usually agree with just because I usually agree with them.

    Well you should always feel comfortable here regardless of who you sound like.

  • Neil C. Reinhardt