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For Sarah Palin, best defence is attack

Mark Mardell | 15:51 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

People wait for University of Arizona memorial

Tucson The queue outside the sports stadium is already long, winding around the block. People sit on the pavement in the sunshine, hours before President Barack Obama has even left Washington.

He's coming to the "Together we thrive" memorial event for the victims of Saturday's deadly shooting here. But what do they want from their president? Above all, they tell me, they want unity, a sense of bringing the country together.

Most say the shooting was not motivated by politics, but most want the rhetoric turned down a notch. A few think he should lead this debate, but the majority of those I talk think now is not the time.

The leader of the local Tea Party movement, Trent Humphries, tells me that he may not agree with the president on a lot of things but Mr Obama is a great orator, an icon, and he can bring the country together. He doesn't think he will go near the debate on the tone of politics.

But Sarah Palin has. In a video, she condemns violence and the attack but also castigates those who would blame her rhetoric for creating a political climate where such things can happen.

She quotes former President Ronald Reagan, indicating that society is not to blame for crimes, only the criminal is.

She continues:

After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.

She suggests that strong language is not new in American politics, pointing out that in the time of the founding fathers, opponents settled their differences by duelling. She doesn't mention that the death in a duel of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of the then Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804 brought the practice to an end and did for a time appear to change the nature of debate.

She declares:

No-one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

And she is strong in condemnation:

...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.

Her use of the term "blood libel" has already raised some hackles. It is a term used to describe the anti-Semitic slur of the middle ages that Jews ritualistically murdered Christian babies.

While the Anti-Defamation League wished she had not used the term their comments are not harsh and they also condemn the attacks on her.

The video tells us a great deal about Ms Palin. Even when attempting to make a statement about healing she cannot help but attack.

Her pithy direct language and anger is her greatest strength. But she finds it hard to sound more than one note. The worry over the term "blood libel" is entirely predictable. Her use of it is either naïve, in that she did not understand the meaning and resonances, or it is a sign she simply doesn't care and wants controversy. The remarks about dueling are also difficult to interpret.

But over all, she has made a prompt statement that does weave together notions of unity and strength with a very firm rejection of any sense of blame. There is no sense of second thoughts or self doubt and she clearly believes the best form of defence is attack. The self-described pit bull in lipstick will not be muzzled.


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