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.