Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Political Speech

Later this year, or early next year when Sarah Palin announces her candidacy for president of the United States, people (pundits, mostly) will point to this video statement as the opening speech of her campaign for the presidency. It was delivered with a fireplace in the background, invoking FDR's "fireside chats," and an American flag over her left shoulder. It was a carefully arranged backdrop for a well delivered statement despite her atrocious pronunciation of words like "ideas" (pronounced 'I'de-uhs') and ideal (pronounced 'I-dill'), whose centerpiece — the term "blood libel" used to denote rabid anti-Semitism through the ages — was an example of highly charged rhetoric by Ms Palin: “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said in this video posted to her Facebook page. “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. That is reprehensible.”

Blood libel (also blood accusation) refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have – alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews. The libels typically allege that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos for Passover. The accusations often assert that the blood of Christian children is especially coveted, and historically blood libel claims have often been made to account for otherwise unexplained deaths of children. In some cases, the alleged victim of human sacrifice has become venerated as a martyr, a holy figure around whom a martyr cult might arise. A few of these have been even canonized as saints.

One could argue that in this debate over violent political rhetoric, Sarah Palin double pumped the rhetorical trigger with the "blood libel" accusation. Ms Palin seems to be casting herself and her followers as an oppressed minority — a strange notion, given the midterm election results in which her side was victorious — accused of murdering a child by zealots of another "religion" (journalists and pundits, who are a frequent target in Palin's martyred victim laments, and a genuine minority) determined to persecute her. I suspect some Jewish and Christian religious leaders may find such an analogy, redolent with the European history of Christian persecution of Jews, inappropriate and offensive.

In a strange reference to our "heated debate" Palin asks, "when was it less heated? Back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?" The practice of dueling, which reached its zenith in the first half of the 19th century in this country was, in effect, sanctioned gun violence permitted by the 2nd Amendment. Palin explains: "Our Founders' genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So we must condemn violence if our republic is to endure."

Unfortunately for Ms Palin's mangled analogy, the Founders' genius was found wanting when dueling was a barbaric practice of 2nd Amendment sanctioned murder. Duels took place within the backdrop of a nation literally tearing itself apart over the question of slavery and states' rights. It took the Civil War and defeat of the pro-slavery Southern states at the cost of 600,000 American deaths to violently resolve the issue with the abolition of slavery. Ms Palin's historical analogy falls flat on its face insofar as the practice of dueling occurred at the height of this nation's civil unrest. Sometimes it was a reflection of that schism. But even then, it was seen as cold-blooded murder and outlawed for good after the Civil War. That Ms Palin should even mention this practice, outlawed for well over one century after the bloodiest civil war in our history, is regrettable to say the least.

"By the time of the Civil War, dueling had begun an irreversible decline, even in the South. Not surprisingly, public opinion, not legislation, caused the change. What once had been a formal process designed to avoid violence and amend grievances had deteriorated into cold-blooded murder. People at last were shocked by it, and they showed their disdain. It may have been too late to save Alexander Hamilton. But if American was to become a truly civilized nation, the publicly sanctioned bloodshed would have to end."

In an attempt to explain her own responsibility in guiding "responsible," "respectful," "peaceful" political debate, Ms Palin only adds to the confusion: "We know violence isn't the answer. When we take up our arms we're talking about our vote (emphasis mine). Yes our debates are full of passion but we settle our political differences respectfully, at the ballot box."

Can anyone explain the meaning of this sentence: "When we take up our arms we're talking about our vote"? What connection is there between ARMING OURSELVES AND TALKING ABOUT OUR VOTE? What is the connection? Honestly, I do not understand. The only explanation that comes to mind is that Palin and her followers regard our government as "the enemy" and as such they must guard their right to vote with the muzzle of a gun. This is a perfect example of wingnut insanity. This is a completely irrational non sequitur.

Typically, when Sarah Palin speaks out in prepared speeches (those were words written for her to recite) her language is subtly offensive. Listen carefully. Read the words, and one can spot the sophistry and their deliberately flawed reasoning. She refers to her followers "respectfully exercis(ing) their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies," adding that "(n)o one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent" and no one should "muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults."

The "shrill cries" Palin alludes to must be a figure of speech, since most of the withering criticism of her for the crosshairs map has been in writing (blogs, press accounts) and media programs in which the shouting down of dissenting voices by Tea Party bullies at town halls does not occur. That is, outside Fox "News" and Right wing Hate radio, to which Palin has given her dispensation from criticism but which are in actuality central conduits of violent political rhetoric.

I wonder how Ms Palin would characterize this heckling of Congresswoman Giffords at the candidates debate, when her response was temporarily halted by an angry shout of "LIAR!" and a chorus of shrill Tea Party voices. Who is being muzzled or "peaceful" here? Anger and shouting are not emotions associated with "peaceful dissent." Tell us Ms Palin, is shouting "LIAR!" at Congresswoman Giffords an "imagined insult"?

The "irresponsible statements of those attempting to apportion blame" are her own and of those on the Right who bellow hate speech from their MEGA-MEGAPHONES and hurl violent anti-government invective with coded language such as "tyranny" and "treason" and "2nd Amendment remedies." No one compelled Sarah Palin to post a map with rifle gunsight crosshairs over Congressional districts and, if that wasn't enough, the individual names of the Congresspersons being "targeted" with crosshairs next to each name.

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