Sarah Palin, who had been silent for days, issued a forceful denunciation of her critics on Wednesday in a video statement that accused pundits and journalists of “blood libel” in what she called their rush to blame heated political rhetoric for the shootings in Arizona. “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said in a 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.” Ms. Palin’s use last year of a map with cross hairs hovering over a number of swing districts, including that of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, has become a symbol of that overheated rhetoric. In an interview with The Caucus on Monday, Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 rival and the former Republican governor of Minnesota, said he would not have produced such a map.
In the video, Ms. Palin rejected criticism of the map, and sought to cast that criticism as a broader indictment of the basic political rights of free speech exercised by people of all political persuasions. She said that acts like the shootings in Arizona “begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.” “Not with those who listen to talk radio,” said Ms. Palin, who is also a Fox News contributor. “Not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle. Not with law abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their first amendment rights at campaign rallies. Not with those who proudly voted in the last election.” In her seven-and-a-half minute video, Ms. Palin said that “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.”
The term blood libel is generally used to mean the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make the video rapidly go viral, is attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish.
In the video, posing in front of a fireplace and an American flag, Ms. Palin looks directly at the camera as she condemns the shooting and talks about “irresponsible statements” made since it happened. With President Obama scheduled to travel to Arizona to speak at a memorial for the victims, Ms. Palin posted the video early in the day Wednesday, getting a jump on the discussion. “President Obama and I may not agree on everything,” she said, “but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process.” Ms. Palin quoted former President Ronald Reagan as saying that society should not be blamed for the acts of an individual. She said, “it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
In the past several days, some pundits have wondered aloud why Ms. Palin had not been more vocal, considering the criticism being leveled at her. In the video, Ms. Palin, who is mentioned as a possible presidential contender for 2012, returns again and again to her contention that critics were unfairly tarring people who engaged in political debates last year. “When we say ‘take up our arms,’ we are talking about our vote,” she said. “Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully.” She said she and her supporters would not change their rhetoric because of the shooting in Arizona. “We will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of 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,” she said.
Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed Nevada Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, also issued a statement defending her rhetoric. “Expanding the context of the attack to blame and to infringe upon the people’s Constitutional liberties is both dangerous and ignorant,” she said in the statement, according to news reports. “The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger.” Ms. Angle said during the campaign that voters could pursue “Second Amendment remedies” if the political process did not work for them. In the wake of the Arizona shooting, those remarks have been criticized anew. “Finger-pointing towards political figures is an audience-rating game and contradicts the facts as they are known – that the shooter was obsessed with his twisted plans long before the Tea Party movement began,” Ms. Angle said in her statement. Ms. Palin’s video, which appeared to be professionally produced, is sure to intensify speculation that Ms. Palin is planning to run for president in 2012.
By taking on her critics directly, using language designed to grab headlines, Ms. Palin is likely to steal attention away from her potential presidential rivals, most of whom have issued more cautious statements. Caution is not part of Ms. Palin’s political repertoire. She starts the video with the standard expressions of condolences to the victims of the shootings. But her demeanor quickly shifts into a more aggressive posture. The video is laden with references that will appeal to her potential supporters. She talks about the country’s “foundational freedoms” and the intentions of the nation’s founders, and refers to former President Reagan. And twice, she calls the United States “exceptional,” a dig at Mr. Obama, whom conservatives accuse of not believing in the concept of “American exceptionalism” because of his answer to a reporter’s question early in his presidency. “Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength,” she says. “It is part of why America is exceptional.”