Is This the End of Sarah Palin As We Know Her?
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Has Sarah Palin gone too far this time? Or is she immune, able to cross any line no matter how sacred?
With every headline-making gaffe or nasty comment Sarah Palin has made over the past few years, pundits and citizens alike have pondered this question, and the answer, until now, is that like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going.
Still, it’s worth asking again, in the wake of last weekend's senseless tragedy which puts a new light on her public persona. Palin's cavalier use of violent imagery may not have directly caused the Tucson shooting that left six dead and a dozen wounded--but it seems uglier now. Her endless gambits to rule the news cycle may be grudgingly admired at other times--but when it takes precious time away from mourning those whose lives are lost forever, it has a pathetic, out-of-touch-feel.
The heat on Palin began almost immediately after the horrific Giffords shooting, when social media users, bloggers and journalists by the hundreds made the immediate connection between Giffords’ Arizona district and Palin’s infamous “reload” crosshairs map, which put a target over that district. This map from Palin's camp had bothered onlookers at the time: Giffords herself had warned about it having consequences. So it was natural that the map came back to mind.
More information surfaced about the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, showing that he was not a Tea Party acolyte but a disturbed individual with complex, confused personal and political motives. Nevertheless, a Palin aide made the mistake of declaring that no, the targets on the map were surveyor’s marks, not gun crosshairs. This backtrack came despite the Twitter command to “reload” that initially led Palin’s followers to the map. Such a ridiculous denial, of course, made Palin's staff look all the more culpable, as absurd defensiveness so often does. It was an amateur move, to say the least.
At that point, pundits like Joe Scarborough urged Palin to pledge to tone down her rhetoric--not to apologize, but to demonstrate reflectiveness. On Politico, Jonathan Martin wrote a feature depicting Palin as being at a turning point and needing to choose a decisive path: would she take to politics by presenting vision and authority and centrist appeal, or would she keep stoking the fires and become a talking head?
On the morning of the memorial for the victims of the shooting, the previously silent Palin released an eight-minute video declaring her hatred for war and violence, and then accusing critics of perpetrating a “blood libel” against her -- a phrase that explicitly refers to the cruel anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews taking the blood of Christian children. Mainstream Jewish groups and even right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg denounced Palin’s highly inappropriate use of the term “blood libel” to apply to herself and other pundits being chastised for their inflammatory rhetoric. It was a particular faux pas given that several of the victims, including Giffords, are Jewish.
Gravitas, this video did not demonstrate.
The video clip's disturbing qualities encompassed more than the offensive anti-Semitic connotations that Palin probably didn’t even understand. Beyond the awful word choice, the tone of her eight-minute message on a day meant to be devoted to the victims of the attack was jarring and bizarre. Even in the pundit class that has revered Palin for being a spokesperson for a subset of America, there was some serious head-scratching. Palin’s words exposed her strategy for all to see: seize the spotlight and hold on, no matter what the circumstances. Most of the media-savvy population was aware of that strategy. But on a day of grief, it appeared nakedly venal and self-serving rather than full of gumption and can-do. And it raises the inevitable question of what Palin would be without that strategy, whether she stands for anything at all beyond her successful pose as media provocateur.