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“Blood libel”

Sarah Palin, of course, could have said nothing. Why, just because of pressure from the media, should she feel compelled to comment on a story of a deranged assassin who had nothing to do with her?

But as an attention-seeking activist, Palin had to find a way to participate in 2011’s biggest news story so far. This morning, Palin released a remarkable online political address in response to the shooting spree in Tucson, the one that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with a gunshot to the head and a miraculous story of survival and courage. Here’s Palin’s video:

Sarah Palin: “America’s Enduring Strength” from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

Update: Full text of Palin’s statement is here.

This video is so unusual that it’s hard to draw a parallel with any other statement released by a public figure in recent memory. Responding to a tragic event in the news, Palin delivers almost 8 minutes of charged political messages, the only language she seems to speak. Let’s look at how it was written.

“No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent,” Palin begins. That sentence echoes the language of the anti-abortion movement, one of Palin’s signature issues.

Getting to her main point, Palin says crimes like this shooting “begin and end with the criminals who commit them.” She later adds, “We must condemn violence if our republic is to endure.” Correct. But why did we need her to say this? We’ve been hearing this from other politicians for several days, and throughout history.

Time after time, her video meanders into politics, rolling out decidedly political language, like “the other party.” Then we get to the most amazing sentence in the whole piece:

“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 that they purport to condemn.”

Consider the implications of that word “purport.” Palin leaves room for doubt that journalists and pundits actually do condem violence and hatred.

Implying that someone supports violence is the same angle many liberal journalists have used against Palin; her frequent references to guns seem dangerously close to encouraging people taking up arms against political leaders.

Responding to criticism that she invokes the language of guns while campaigning, she says, “When we take up our arms, we’re talking about our votes.” Few claims in her speech ring as hollow as this one. I don’t believe Palin has ever advocated violence, but the “lock and load” language for which she is famous refers to aggressive campaigning and fund-raising, not specifically votes.

In another whiffle, she calls the man charged with the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, “apolitical,” apparently confusing the word with “nonpartisan.” Loughner clearly has political opinions, inscrutable as they may be.

Palin also gets in a dig at people who thought reading the Constitution on the floor of Congress was merely “symbolic.” Who actually offered that critique, she doesn’t say, but her message is that it was her political opponents—as if Palin had anything whatsoever to do with Congress reading the Constitution.

Then there’s this: “Less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.”

Palin seems to be referring to Democratic Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, who introduced a law that would ban the use of rifle sights in political advertising, in response to Palin’s use of sights in an ad targeting Rep. Gifford. Rather than apologizing for that ad, Palin is saying here that it was OK.

Finally, I want to get to Palin’s odd invocation of the phrase “blood libel.” According to an impressively footnoted Wikipedia page on the topic, blood libel often refers to false, malicious accusations that Jews murder children. The phrase implies persecution of a minority.

There can be little doubt that Sarah Palin and her writers researched this phrase before using it in this speech. The message they want to send is that Palin is as much of a victim as Rep. Giffords.

Because heaven forbid anyone should be subject to more attention than Sarah Palin.

Update: A thoughtfully done analysis of Palin’s speech by Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post notes: “The phrase [blood libel] was first used in connection with response to the Arizona shootings in an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal and has been picked up by others on the right.”

Update: Politico has a full page set up hosting a debate over Palin’s use of the phrase “blood libel.”

Update, 3:10 p.m. ET: The “blood libel” video was briefly gone from Vimeo, where it was posted, but it came back after 15 minutes or so. The statement remained on Facebook, and a copy of the video is also playable on YouTube.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Politics

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