Public Discourse and Mutual Target Usage II

by Vince

Above, Sarah Palin stands her ground in the wake of the Tuscon shooting. The full transcript to her speech can be viewed here. Ezra Klein starts us off with a critique of her response:

Imagine if Palin had come out and said, “My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to an unhealthy political climate, I have to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than merely sharpen my defenses.” That would’ve been leadership: It would have made her critics look small, and it would’ve made her look big. Those who doubted whether Palin could rise to an occasion that called for more than sharp partisanship would’ve been silenced.

Of course, Palin didn’t say that. Al Sharpton did (or at least he saidsomething very close). Palin accused her opponents of propagating a “blood libel.” Rather than admitting that we all sometimes go too far, and that we must constantly work to see the humanity in others and tamp down on the dangerous certainty we have in ourselves, she lashed out at her critics, mocked the idea that political rhetoric was ever “less heated” and noted that there was a time when politicians settled disputes through duels.

So that’s Palin’s substantive response: Politics has never been reliably civil, her critics are unfair to her and at least she’s not shot anybody. All that is true. But you won’t find “stop bothering me, this tragedy isn’t my fault” in the chapter headings of any books on leadership.

Her response is very Jonah Goldberg-esque; we don’t live in a utopian world where everyone talks nicely to each other. She comes off somewhat callously and apathetic towards the invective streaming through the infected U.S. media and seems to let it off the hook as part of what we have in an imperfect world. This is somewhat a norm amongst conservative figures in America. America is seen by Palin as “exceptional” and our constitution is sacred. Yet don’t you dare try to make our world or nation perfect because we live on a fallen earth. When seeing that logic, it sounds out of touch from the struggling world and uninterested in change. Of course they want to change, but you will see a great difference in the moving direction for change and source of inspiration between liberals and conservatives.

Furthermore, no single American is that disconnected from the mass media’s tentacles that they do not get swept up in birtherism thoughts, comparisons between Barack Obama and Hitler, or one of many culture wars. No one is taking the blame off of Jared Lee Loughner and fully blaming Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or the Right. Many are simply saying that their usual rhetoric that is flowered with jingoistic, pompous, and sometimes angry words has an affect on us all.

In Palin’s defense, I am siding with Jared Lee Loughner being a nihilist, meaning he rejected everything, both sides of the political aisle, and doesn’t seem to be hellbent on destroying one certain party. It is more of a sick irony than a direct correlation that Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting overlapped with her district being the lucky recipient of gun cross hairs. Would the Democratic party be called for inciting violence if one of the Congressmen or Senators in its cross hairs map was shot?

Now on to Obama’s speech. Dave Weigel posted the full transcript to Barack Obama’s speech in Tuscon and is worth a full read.

Money quote:

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

As you read on, Obama denounces the idea of blaming one another during this time. I wonder if Palin takes that as him defending her amidst the ‘blood libel’ thrown her way? Obama continues on by showing the inward affects this event has (or can have) on us all:

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected.  We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward.  We reflect on the past.   Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.  Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us?  Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.  We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order.  We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

Obama closes with the desire for us all to see America as 9 year old Christina Taylor Green did:

Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.  She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful.  She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model.  She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

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