Media

Sarah Palin's False Kumbaya-ism

With her "blood libel" charge, does Palin display narcissism or ignorance—or both?

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 2:34 PM EST

Sarah Palin is getting slammed today for her Facebook video statement accusing unnamed journalists and pundits who tied the Tucson massacre to the extreme rhetoric of the right of engaging in "blood libel." Palin has a dog in this fight, for in the wake of the shooting, she was assailed for cavalierly using gun-related rhetoric ("Reload!") and for placing cross-hairs over the districts [*corrected from "pictures"] of Democratic House members she targeted for defeat in November, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Yet for her to equate the criticism she's received with the genocidal persecution of an entire people demonstrates either ignorance or narcissism. Or both. "Blood libel" is a term that refers to Jews using the blood of children (mainly Christians) for religious practices, and this false accusation has been used to justify violent pogroms against Jews. Palin is not the victim of "blood libel." But leave it to Palin to deploy such incendiary language to stir up a controversy today—President Barack Obama and others are attending a memorial service in Tucson to honor the victims—in order to place herself at the center of the story.

Rather than lower the volume, Palin has turned up the heat with this "blood libel" charge. (You can judge for yourself if her use of this phrase has anything to do with the prominence of Jews in the media.) But here's the kicker: in the same statement, she claimed that all participants in the national public discourse ought to eschew name-calling and extreme rhetoric. "We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy," she proclaimed. And she added that Americans have a desire "to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner."

Is Palin a convert to Kumbaya-ism? If so, she's a bit late to the party, for Palin has defined herself with intemperate remarks. During the 2008 campaign, she charged Obama with being someone who was so critical of the United States he would purposefully hobnob with anti-American terrorists:

Our opponent...is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.

After the campaign, Palin, during the debate on health care, claimed that the health care reform initiative Obama sought would establish "death panels" of government bureaucrats who would judge whether specific individuals are "worthy of health care." Politifact.com, an independent fact-checking outfit, declared there was no truth to her charge. Months later, Palin acknowledged, "The term I used to describe the panel making these decision should not be taken literally." But she added, " I would characterize them like that again, in a heart beat." Politifact.com cited her original "death panel" remark as its "Lie of the Year," noting, "Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest. 'Death panels."

Palin is in an odd spot to be urging respectful debate that handles political and policy differences in a "positive manner." She has shown little regard for facts in policy debates and demonstrated she's willing to accuse her foes of being anti-American. She is the queen of disrespectful rhetoric. Now she compares her critics to violent and genocidal anti-Semites. She could have assailed them in a somber and serious manner, but she chose not to. After all, that's not how Palin got to where she is: a political celebrity who at a time of mourning turns a national tragedy into a Facebook post that at its core is about her.