Sarah Palin finally made a public statement about the Arizona shootings this week and the criticism directed at her role in creating an atmosphere of incivility and outright hostility in the American political discourse. It wasn't her finest moment. She included an obscure anti-Semitic reference to "blood libel" in her meandering, nearly eight-minute video.
"Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions," she said. "And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas." This was all good. Then she went off the tracks: "But 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. That is reprehensible."
Poor Palin. Even when she tries to get it right, she's still wrong. She focused more on defending herself than on conveying true sympathy for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims. Graceless under pressure. Writing in the Huffington Post, Rabbi Brent Hirschfield explained the meaning behind a "blood libel" and why many Jews took offense at Palin's use of the phrase. "In the briefest terms, it is the charge that Jews use the blood of non-Jews, typically that of children, for ritual purposes, especially the making of Passover matzo."
Hirschfield explained that the charge originated among medieval Catholics but has also been used by Protestants, and more recently by Muslims, to provoke rage at Jews. "That's what makes Palin's use of the term so interesting — for the analogy to work, she must be the Jew!" said the rabbi.
Palin channeled the Great Communicator when she said, "We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker." That's groovy and hip, and a sentiment I think most would agree with. Where she gets in trouble with me is in the following line: "It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions."
Where does Palin take responsibility for the gun sights trained on the districts of Democratic representatives, including that of Giffords? Where was Palin's concession that perhaps "Don't retreat — reload!" might not have been the best way to get her point across?
Palin uses loaded words and images and then tries to act surprised when they blow up. No, she didn't pull the trigger in Arizona, and I wasn't expecting her to issue a half-assed apology, but she could have expressed a little less of the "Why is everybody picking on me?" whine and a lot more of the "Let's set aside our differences and come together as Americans to help the victims and start the healing." She could have done that, but she decided to stick to her guns. As usual, it's all about Sarah.
Somewhere in those eight minutes, she and her speechwriters could have referred to an even greater communicator than Reagan — and that's Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies — or else? The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
This was a missed opportunity by the ex-governor. She could have used this moment to grow in stature and look as though she had it within her to lead more than a conservative moment — that she could lead an entire nation. Instead she chose to toss aside the opportunity for statesmanship and lashed out bitterly while throwing red meat to her base.
In the always churning and swirling turmoil of politics, prominent figures can both ride the wave and be swept under. But Palin's arrogance, sense of entitlement and narcissism were on full display in her video message. She wants to be president, and she has shown that she can be plenty tough and unyielding in her principles. What she has also always shown in her defensive swagger is a complete lack of humility.
Barack Obama has a swagger. George W. Bush had a swagger (and a smirk to go along with it). You have to if you're going to take the incoming flak from your opponents. But it seems that playing defense, settling scores and issuing smackdowns is all Palin is about. These are not qualities I want from someone who would be making critical decisions that weigh on all Americans.
Jeffrey Winbush is a frequent contributor to The Root.