Having just read a piece by former New York Mayor Ed Koch, I must agree with everything he said in defense of Sarah Palin, but Mr. Koch failed to bring home his point – that Palin appears to have meant what she said and said what she meant when she accused the “left” of directing a “blood libel” against her.
But, I also think there may be a larger lesson in this – something that goes to the foundation of our cultural mindset.
Like Koch, I, also, am not a big Palin fan. But if a “blood libel” is an untrue or unproven accusation of a terrible, bloody crime against a person or group that could lead to violent reprisals, then I think she used the term correctly.
If you recall, some Jewish groups, while not accusing her of anti-Semitism, said they wished Palin had used a different term to describe the spreading of rumors that it was rhetoric used by she and the Tea Party that inspired the Arizona shootings.
They implied that maybe Palin didn’t understand the true meaning of the phrase, which comes from the centuries old and oft-repeated lie that the Jews use the blood of (insert group here) babies to make matzo.
But, I think she does.
What’s the difference between “the Jews kill gentile children and use their blood” or “the Jews steal internal organs from people to sell on the black market” or “Sarah Palin and the Tea Party caused a man to shoot a bunch of innocent people at a supermarket”?
If there were some evidence that the shooter was a big Palin fan and took her campaign rhetoric, with its gun and fighting references literally, that would be one thing. But, so far, there’s been no such evidence.
What Palin said that set off the complaints was:
“Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, 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 they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
Maybe the lesson to be taken from this – not from the Arizona massacre – I don’t know what the lesson from that might be – but from the rush to condemn Palin absent any evidence, is that the entire country needs to change its reference point from war and violence to something else.
As a society, Americans have always tended to resort to violence and describe all kinds of mundane things in violent ways. It’s how we describe our sports, our politics and even our entertainment.
We figuratively “kill” our opponents and our audiences – and these are good things. We “die” on stage, if things are going badly.
Violent references are so integral a part of our culture that most of us don’t even notice them.
For instance, we could probably have come up with alternative ways to say, “when push comes to shove,” or “get away with murder,” or even “punch line.”
Why do we say “twist your arm” when we mean coerce or “break a leg” when we wish someone luck or “shoot from the hip” when we mean acting recklessly or impulsively? Why do we “fight for peace,” “take a shot at it” or “add insult to injury”? Why is an insult or slight a “slap in the face” and why are we asked to “roll with the punches”?
Palin’s crosshairs on Congressional district maps is a fairly typical American-style reference, not the least bit unusual in the national discourse, and maybe that’s a problem.
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