A Belated Christmas Gift for Sarah Palin
I’ve put off writing this post for a couple of days now, letting things develop. I should have known that by the time I got around to it, the incident on Saturday in Tucson would have become just another example of how Sarah Palin is the real victim.
Look, I don’t know if the kook who shot all those people was a follower of Sarah Palin or the Tea Party or if he had ever heard any of her or their incendiary rhetoric or seen any of their incendiary graphics.
But I don’t need to know if he ever heard or saw any of that stuff to know that it was utterly classless and irresponsible. I think about as good as it gets for Palin and the other mouth-foamers would be to say if the kid had seen or heard any of their incendiary stuff, it would have done nothing to dissuade him from his actions. The issue here isn’t whether or not a direct causation can be drawn from any one statement or image; it’s that when such statements and images are ubiquitous and go largely unremarked, as they have been for the past couple of years, they become normalized. Just part of the way things are. And the problem there is that for those whose grasp on reality is more tenuous, the implicit message is that lots of people believe and feel the way you do, and they’re all suggesting – or at least not disagreeing with – the basic premise of the crazy plan you have in mind. So maybe it isn’t all that crazy after all. You’re just stepping up to do the job that many others agree needs to be done.
And no, both sides don’t do it equally. While there is inflammatory talk on the left, I’m not aware of any example of a candidate, elected official, or liberal media personality using gun imagery in reference to achieving a political end. Why is that important? Simply because this country has a long history of political assassinations being carried out with guns. Responsible people don’t go there in their rhetoric, for the same reason no one thinks it’s funny to joke about having a bomb in your suitcase when you go through security at the airport.
So while the rightwing media has been wringing its hands about how intolerable it would be to have any limitations whatsoever to what is acceptable to say in political discourse, I’d like to suggest a simple rule, one so simple that even a conservative should be able to remember it: don’t make statements or use images that link guns to politics. Period.
This leaves you free to talk about tarring and feathering, pitchforks and torches, guillotines, heads on pikes, boiling people in hot oil, dropping pianos or large boulders on their heads, etc. etc. – because those aren’t things that have been used in the past in this country to kill politicians, and even the kooks will be able to pick up on the fact that you’re using a metaphor to describe your anger being at the point of physical violence while you’re not actually advocating physical violence. This should leave plenty of latitude for our conservative brethren to vent their hostility at the evil people who don’t agree with them, and may even inject some much-needed creativity into their rants, while at the same time not suggesting to the unstable that all they need to do to solve this problem is go down to Wal-Mart and pick up a gun.
Back to Palin: despite her spinning, the facts in all of this are clear. Palin put a gunsight graphic on Gabby Giffords’ district way back in March of 2010. Giffords herself, at the time, publicly said that it made her feel threatened. Palin didn’t respond, either with an explanation that the gunsights were actually “surveyor’s marks”, a lie so stupid that it’s failed to find traction even with our stupid media, or in any other way. Giffords was not the only one who complained, either. The response from the Palin camp was to leave the graphic on the site until Saturday, when its poor taste became inescapable even to Palin herself.
Now it turns out that even asking the question about whether this type of thing may have contributed to an atmosphere that made a horror like this possible is a “blood libel” against Sarah Palin.
I wish I were making that up; sadly, those are the words she used herself.
The Greg Stillson analogy is now complete; while Palin has in the past used her own children as shields to deflect criticism, she’s now hiding behind the body of a 9-year-old child who was “collateral damage” in an attack on a congresswoman Palin targeted with gunsights.