Washington – In the spirit of civil discourse, I’d like to humbly suggest that Sarah Palin please consider being quiet for a while. Perhaps a great while.
At the risk of being bold, I might observe that her faux-presidential address about the Tucson massacre seemed to fall somewhat flat, drawing comparisons to the least attractive public moments of such figures as Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. I could go so far as to observe that Palin almost seemed to portray herself as a collateral victim. Surely a former governor of Alaska — who served the better part of an entire term — would never seek to give the impression that she views any conceivable event, no matter how distant or tragic, as being All About Sarah.
Yet this is the unfortunate impression that Palin’s videotaped peroration seems to have left. I am at a loss to recommend any course of corrective action other than an extended period of abstinence from Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.
Palin doubtless understands by now that characterizing her alleged persecution by journalists and commentators with the term “blood libel” was a semantic faux pas. One must question, however, not only the tone of her complaint but the content as well. Did she, indeed, have a legitimate grievance? I must be frank: The evidence suggests not.
Days earlier, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had been shot while meeting with her constituents; six people were killed in the incident, including a federal judge, and more than a dozen others injured. It happens that Giffords’ district, in southern Arizona, is passionately divided on just about every hot-button issue.
It also turns out that before last November’s election, Giffords gave a television interview expressing her concern about the bitterness and rancor of our political debate. In the interview, Giffords cited a graphic that Palin had posted on Facebook — a map identifying congressional districts being targeted for Republican gains. The districts, including Giffords’, were highlighted with an unfortunate symbol: the cross hairs of a rifle scope.
One of Palin’s aides must have been trying to lighten a dreary week with a bit of humor when she claimed that the cross hairs were actually those of a surveyor’s scope. Perhaps the ruse would have been more effective if viewers of Palin’s “reality” television show hadn’t recently watched her use a high-powered rifle, not a theodolite, to fell a caribou. Or, indeed, if Palin hadn’t famously counseled fellow Republicans not to retreat but instead to “reload.”
In her statement, Palin gave the impression of being appalled that journalists mentioned the cross-hairs graphic in the hours after the rampage in Tucson. She singled out reporters and pundits, not political activists who might bear partisan animus. Surely she must have anticipated that viewers who recall her course of collegiate study — journalism — would be baffled at this reaction.
In the days since, we have learned that the alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be an unbalanced young man whose political views are confused and perhaps irrelevant. But at the time, nothing was known about the assailant or his motives. I am confident that at least one of Palin’s professors must have taught her that in reporting about a shooting, the fact that the principal target felt threatened is highly relevant information, as is the specific nature of that threat.
It is also relevant that most of the violent political rhetoric that blights the public discourse is emanating from the far right — a constituency for which Palin speaks, often so colorfully. In the 1960s and ’70s, this was not the case; anti-government invective and unsettling talk of “revolution” came primarily from the far left. Palin is perhaps too young to remember that era, but as a student of history she must have read about it — and must recognize the contrast between then and now.
For her to take such umbrage, then, at the reporting of evident, pertinent and factual information deepened the impression that she is — and I must be frank — astoundingly thin-skinned and egocentric.
The way Palin portrayed herself as not only a popular champion but also a martyr reminded me — not for the first time — of Eva Peron. If she chooses this unpromising route to higher political office, I suggest she find a suitable balcony from which to deliver her next address to the nation.
Or perhaps — solely in the interest of civil discourse — that there be no next address.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
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