Sarah Palin And The Stupid Things We Sometimes Say


The shootings in Arizona: I’m still trying to process them. I have the luxury of being far enough away from the tragedy that I don’t have to deal with the emotional content, but the incident has still given me plenty to mull over, particularly where issues of free speech are concerned. Only problem is, as I’m running it through my head, I keep uncovering contradictory arguments. Here’s the list of balls I’m trying to juggle.

I don’t like Sarah Palin. Seriously: I can’t stand her. When it comes to issues — especially LGBT issues — she’s not as offensive as some politicians I could name, but her lowbrow, jingoistic rabble-rousing is tailor-made to shut down debate. That’s my real problem with Palin: she’s not a thinker, she can’t see things from multiple perspectives, she lives in black and white. That’s not what I’d call a leadership skill. I’m not a believer, but if I were, I’d be worried about all the similarities between Sarah Palin and the antichrist.

I don’t like the Tea Party. (In fact, I’m pretty much a yellow-dog Democrat.) Like Palin and her teabagging crony, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party doesn’t allow for nuance: its platform is dumbed down so that anyone can understand it. For example, the party obsesses over reducing the size of government, when in fact, it should focus on making government more effective. Those two issues aren’t one and the same, but the latter is far more complex, and a much harder sell to voters. And don’t get me started on teabaggers’ bizarro-world interpretation of the Constitution. Tea Party politicians take their own, easy road.

On the other hand, politics and military metaphors go hand-in-hand. Groups on the left and the right both talk about fighting the other side, targeting politicians, taking back cities and states. When Palin urged voters to “target” specific elected officials, she was just doing what many other politicians and activists do in the heat of campaign season — in fact, I’ve received emails from progressive organizations using similar language. The target graphics were unsavory, but I’m willing to see them in their intended metaphorical context. I mean, I’ve posted a pic of the pope with a target on his forehead. If someone goes out and shoots him, am I to blame?

Blaming anyone for murder is serious. Some people want to see evidence linking Palin to the shootings, but (a) that evidence is pretty shaky, and (b) unless Palin were directly involved, I’d never want her to bear that kind of burden. (Even though she’s a husk of a human being and may not be capable of emotion or empathy.) That said, despite Palin’s technical innocence, she’d do well to admit that she’s part of a larger problem.

There’s been a trend away from assigning blame where blame is due, which I find offensive. Remember the Long Island Railroad shooter? In court, he tried to dodge blame with his “black rage” defense, arguing that whites had oppressed him for so long that he was justified in mowing down 25 of them on a commuter train. We see similar defenses employed all the time in rape cases. (“She was dressed like a whore, so what did she expect? She wanted it.”) And the “gay panic” defense remains a common tactic in gay-bashing trials. (“He was making a move on me, so I shot him/stabbed him/beat him up, tied him to a fence, and left him for dead.”) Blaming Palin for Loughner’s actions lets the shooter off the hook.

Friends have said that instigating violence is violence. I agree that in some cases, yes, encouraging violence counts as violence itself. When Hitler instigated violence against the Jews, or Milosevic encouraged violence against ethnic Albanians, that was clear-cut: they weren’t just condoning violence, they were ordering it. Less overt but similarly aggressive sentiment led to the assassination of Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer six days ago. But there are many, many differences between those events and Sarah Palin’s connection to the shootings in Tucson.

The shooter has little or no connection to Palin or the Tea Party. As much as we might like to see linkages — and as hard as the media is trying to find them — there’s not much connecting Jared Loughner to Sarah Palin or the Tea Party. By all accounts, Loughner wasn’t a teabagger on a mission: he was and is certifiably insane.

Look, don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see Palin and the Tea Party go down in flames, and whether or not any harder evidence in this case emerges, the incident is undoubtedly a turning point in their histories (or at least Palin’s). But at heart, I have trouble laying the blame for this on her shoulders.

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