America's Misguided Debate: Blaming Sarah Palin for Arizona Shooting Is Wrong

A Commentary by Marc Hujer

Following this weekend's tragic shooting, many on the left in the United States are calling for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to be called to account for their alleged culpability in the killings. But these claims are spurious and could do more to help the left's political detractors than harm them.

Photo Gallery: Anger and Mourning in Arizona Photos
AFP

Saturday's assassination attempt on Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a tragedy, but this tragedy could also present an opportunity in American politics -- a chance to return to a more civil political debate and finally overcome the divisions that have characterized the country since the presidency of George W. Bush. But only hours after the assassination attempt on the Congresswomen, which left six people dead and 14 injured, the debate showed signs of derailing.

Of all people, it is precisely those who have complained the loudest about the culture of debate -- about the rhetoric of the Tea Party, the right wing's harsh words and the baseless Obama-Hitler comparisons -- who are now poisoning the debate with their own baseless insinuations. With little reliance on facts, they began searching for scapegoats for the attack and they found them, selectively, among the right wing, the Tea Party, Republican Party boss Michael Steele and Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin.

The accusations being lodged are grave. "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin," leftist blogger Markos Moulitsas sneered after the bloodbath. Meanwhile, MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann called for Palin to be ousted from the Republican Party if she didn't repudiate her role in "amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics." In his column in the New York Times, Paul Krugman sought to link the "toxic rhetoric" coming from right-wing preachers of hate with the assassination attempt. And former member of Congress Chris Carney said Palin should "say she was wrong."

A Year of Political Hatred and Defamation

There is no doubt that 2010 was a bad year for the United States, a year of political hatred and defamation. A year in which it became fashionable to dispute President Obama's American citizenship and to issue threats against members of Congress who voted in favor of sweeping health care reforms. But have Palin and Co., with their words, truly paved the way for a crime like this to be committed? Did 22-year-old suspect Jared Lee Loughner really shoot because Sarah Palin marked crosshairs on a map of electoral districts on her blog where Democrats were facing re-election, including that of Giffords? Did he murder because Palin's Facebook page includes her infamous line: "Do not retreat! Instead - reload"?

The language used by Palin and a few Tea Party supporters is doubtlessly raw and inappropriate, but there is in no way any proof whatsoever that they inspired the crime committed this weekend in Arizona. What little is known about the perpetrator does not suggest that he was a supporter of the Tea Party or an admirer of Palin's -- he doesn't even appear to have any clear political convictions. His favorite books include the "Communist Manifesto," Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and "Peter Pan," an erratic hodge podge. So far, there is no evidence that there were any political motives behind the crime.

Indeed, the massive criticism of Sarah Palin is misguided. This is not only due to the fact that the accusation is baseless, but also because the calculated attempt to weaken Palin in this manner could ultimately backfire.

The reasoning is quite simple: Palin has always profited in the role of victim -- a victim of the liberal elite. Time and again, she has been made fun of -- when, for example, she spoke for the first time about foreign policy during the 2008 presidential campaign, and later when she wrote notes on her hand during speeches and television appearances. But every time people made fun of the Alaska politician or attacked her as being superficial and unqualified, it merely helped deepen the support of her followers. Now, the allegation that she carries partial responsibility for what has happened in Arizona could turn out to do more to help than harm her.

Yet again, she could emerge as a political martyr.

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1. Words have consequences
ddgraham 01/10/2011
This commentator has it all wrong, in my view. Since the Democratic and Republican primaries in 2008, the right wing in America has been ginning up the hate rhetoric in order to inflame the cultural wars that they created back in the 80s -- the so-called "southern strategy." During the campaign for the general election, when Palin hit the scene, the hate speech coming from the Republicans amplified, and there was no voice of reason in the Republican party to tamp it down. This was long before the well-financed and less-than-populist "tea party movement" emerged. Palin and other right wing commentators, specifically Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, have been advocating violence against "liberals" regularly, doing so in thinly coded "dog whistles" intended for their rabid followers and the mentally unbalanced to hear and heed. Nevada senatorial candidate Sharon Engel called for "Second Amendment remedies" if the election results did not turn her way. Now the chickens have come home to roost, and while it may not be possible to prove causation in the strict legal sense beyond a reasonable doubt, no rational individual can deny that the incendiary rhetoric of Palin and her sympathizers, laced with hate and references to violence, has not contributed to the bloodbath in Tuscon. And to find some kind of false equivalency between the rhetoric of the right and left is absurd. No progressive in American politics has been advocating violence against those with whom they disagree. It's unfortunate that the writer of this article is so ill-informed about American politics.
2. Palin, Tea Party, Right Wing Talk Radio...
muley63 01/10/2011
do need to accept partial responsibility for political violence. I'm tired of the false equivalence by above-it-all commentators. Overwhelmingly, the violence is perpetuated by radical conservatives: Oklahoma City, Atlanta Olympics, killing of abortion doctors and now Gifford. The right wing/conservatives exclusively use elimination language (lock-and-load), enemy of the state language (Marxist, socialist, tyranny) and should not be shocked when an unstable man in a gun soaked country commits an act of violence. So what if Palin's political career becomes a martyr. Her style and the right wing shock jocks and the politician who depend on such tactics need to be called out and blame must be partitioned out. How else do you think their behavior will change?
3. I am thoroughly disgusted with both parties.
Macadore 01/10/2011
Dehumanizing those you would defeat and blaming them for all the World's problems is an ancient political ploy. Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. have been blaming each other for everything as long as I can remember. I am thoroughly disgusted with both parties. I wish they would put the nation's business ahead of partisan politics.
4.
chilihead98 01/11/2011
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- Following this weekend's tragic shooting, many on the*left in the United States are calling for*Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to be*called to account for their alleged culpability in the killings. But these claims are spurious and could do more to help the left's political detractors than harm them. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,738627,00.html ---End Quote--- The left is always the first to resort to slander. The medias attack on GW Bush was relentless and undeserved. The Tea Party, though energized and vocal, is extremely peaceful with a clear objective...restoring the role of the US constitution as the social and legal contract between citizens and government. There is no evidence of any violence perpetrated by Tea Party members anywhere. Whereas there are plenty of instances of leftist inspired violence and intimidation. The people promoting the idiotic idea that sarah Palin is somehow responsible for the actions of a lone psychopath are a disgrace to the human race.
5.
BTraven 01/11/2011
Singling out Parlin as only culprit seems to me who doesn’t live in the States therefore depends on information delivered by journalists not only unfair to her but also a misjudge of the social climate because with Obama’s election the country has become more divided than it had been ever before. I could imagine a split of the country in three parts – east coast, west coast as well as an area which consist of the middle and the south. I believe only the language keeps them together. The culture differences are too big to be bridged. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/09/giffords-shooting-political-violence-polarised
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