As I see it, in the current battle for public opinion Sarah Palin has defeated her harsh and unfair critics.
After the January 8 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others in Tucson, Arizona, some television talking heads and members of the blogosphere denounced her and held her in part responsible for creating a climate of hatred that resulted in the mass attacks.
An example is Joe Scarborough and his crew on the “Morning Joe” show, which I watch and generally enjoy every morning at 6:30 when I rise to start the day. Because Palin designated Congresswoman Giffords and others for defeat in the November elections by the use of crosshairs on website maps of the Congressional districts, they blamed Palin for creating an atmosphere that caused Jared Loughner (whom everyone now recognizes as being mentally disturbed) to embark on the shooting and killing spree.
Then reason set in, led by President Obama in a widely-lauded speech in Tucson. Most commentators did an about-face, recognizing that the lack of civility in both speech and actions by politicians, particularly in Washington, were not the cause of the shootings. A friend of the shooter said he had no interest in politics or talk radio. Insanity was the cause of his vicious acts, not political rhetoric.
While the charge of responsibility against Palin was dropped, the Scarborough crew continued to assail her for defending herself by stating that she had been the subject of a blood libel. Her critics were incensed that she should use the term “blood libel.” That was the description given by Jews to the charge of Christian clergy who falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children in order to make matzah during the Passover holiday. That libelous accusation was intended by those using it to cause pogroms that killed and injured thousands of Jews. That same charge – blood libel – is now repeated by the media in Arab countries to stir up the anger of the Arab street against the Jews in Israel. The libel continues to do damage.
Today the phrase “blood libel” can be used to describe any monstrous defamation against any person, Jewor non-Jew. It was used by Ariel Sharonwhen he was falsely accused of permitting the Lebanese Christian militia to kill hundreds of defenseless and innocent Muslim men, women and children in Lebanese refugee camps. The killings were monstrous and indefensible revenge for earlier killings by Muslims of innocent Christian civilians.
Time magazine published a story implying that Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres. He sued the magazine. At trial it was determined that the magazine story included false allegations, but since Sharon was a public figure, he received no monetary damages.
How dare Sarah Palin, cried the commentators, use that phrase to describe the criticism of her by those who blamed her for creating the atmosphere that set Loughner off in his murderous madness. Some took the position that it proved their ongoing charges that she is not an intelligent person and probably did not know what the phrase meant historically. In my opinion, she was right to denounce her critics and use “blood libel” to describe the unfair criticism that she had been subject to.
Why do I defend Palin in this case? I don’t agree with her political philosophy: She is an arch-conservative; I am a liberal with sanity. But all of us have an obligation, particularly those in politics and public office, to denounce, when we can, the perpetrators of horrendous libels and stand up for those falsely charged. We should denounce unfair, false and wicked charges not only when they are made against ourselves, our friends or our political party but against those with whom we disagree.
If we are to truly change the poisonous political atmosphere that we all complain of, including those who create it, we should speak up for fairness when we can.
In the 2008 presidential race when Sarah Palin’s name was first offered to the public by John McCain as his running mate, I said at the time that she “scared the hell out of me.” My reference was to the content of her remarks, not to her power to persuade voters.