Palin Holds High Ground Over Harsh and Unfair Critics
By Ed Koch
After the January 8 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others in Tucson, Arizona, some television talking heads and members of the blogosphere denounced her and held her in part responsible for creating a climate of hatred that resulted in the mass attacks.
An example is Joe Scarborough and his crew on the "Morning Joe" show, which I watch and generally enjoy every morning at 6:30 a.m. when I rise to start the day. Because Palin designated Congresswoman Giffords and others for defeat in the November elections by the use of crosshairs on website maps of the Congressional districts, they blamed Palin for creating an atmosphere that caused Jared Loughner (whom everyone now recognizes as being mentally disturbed) to embark on the shooting and killing spree.
Then reason set in, led by President Obama in his now famous and widely-lauded speech in Tucson bringing the country together. Most commentators did an about-face, recognizing that the lack of civility in both speech and actions by politicians, particularly in Washington, were not the cause of the shootings. A friend of the shooter said he had no interest in politics or talk radio. Insanity was the cause of his vicious acts, not political rhetoric.
While the charge of responsibility against Palin was dropped, the Scarborough crew continued to assail her for defending herself on her website where she stated that she had been the subject of a blood libel. Her critics were incensed that she should use the term "blood libel." That was the description given by Jews to the charge of Christian clergy who falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children in order to make matzos (unleavened bread) during the Passover holiday. That libelous accusation was intended by those using it to cause pogroms that killed and injured thousands of Jews. It started in the early centuries A.D. and continues to date, according to Wikipedia. That same charge - blood libel - is now repeated by the media in Arab countries to stir up the anger of the Arab street against the Jews in Israel. The libel continues to do damage.
Today the phrase "blood libel" can be used to describe any monstrous defamation against any person, Jew or non-Jew. It was used by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he was falsely accused of permitting the Lebanese Christian militia to kill hundreds of defenseless and innocent Muslim men, women and children in Lebanese refugee camps. The killings were monstrous and indefensible revenge for earlier killings by Muslims of innocent Christian civilians. Time Magazine published a story implying that Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres. He sued the magazine. At trial it was determined that the magazine story included false allegations, but since Sharon was a public figure, he received no monetary damages.
How dare Sarah Palin, cried the commentators, use that phrase to describe the criticism of her by those who blamed her for creating the atmosphere that set Loughner off in his murderous madness. Some took the position that it proved their ongoing charges that she is not an intelligent person and probably did not know what the phrase meant historically. In my opinion, she was right to denounce her critics and use blood libel to describe the unfair criticism that she had been subject to.
Here are excerpts from her statement:
"Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims' families as we express our sympathy."
"Like many, I've spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. 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."
"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."
"As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, ‘We know violence isn't the answer. When we take up our arms, we're talking about our vote.' Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box - as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That's who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn't a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional."
Why do I defend Palin in this case? I don't agree with her political philosophy: She is an arch conservative. I am a liberal with sanity. I know that I am setting myself up for attack when I ask, why did Emile Zola defend Dreyfus? Palin is no Dreyfus and I am certainly no Zola. But all of us have an obligation, particularly those in politics and public office, to denounce, when we can, the perpetrators of horrendous libels and stand up for those falsely charged. We should denounce unfair, false and wicked charges not only when they are made against ourselves, our friends or our political party but against those with whom we disagree. If we are to truly change the poisonous political atmosphere that we all complain of, including those who create it, we should speak up for fairness when we can.
In the 2008 presidential race when Sarah Palin's name was first offered to the public by John McCain as his running mate, I said at the time that she "scared the hell out of me." My reference was to the content of her remarks, not to her power to persuade voters.
It was McCain who lost the presidential election, not Palin. Since that time she has established that she has enormous power to persuade people. A self-made woman who rose from PTA mother to Governor of Alaska, she is one of the few speakers in public life who can fill a stadium. Her books are enormous successes. Her television program about Alaska has been a critical and economic success. When Sarah Palin addresses audiences, they rise to their feet in support and applause. She is without question a major leader of the far right faction in the Republican Party and its ally the Tea Party.
I repeat my earlier comment that she "scares the hell out of me." Nevertheless, she is entitled to fair and respectful treatment. The fools in politics today in both parties are those who think she is dumb. I've never met her, but I've always thought that she is highly intelligent but not knowledgeable in many areas and politically uninformed. I don't believe she will run for president in 2012 or that she would be elected if she did. But I do believe she is equal in ability to many of those in the Republican Party seeking that office.
Many women understand what she has done for their cause. She will not be silenced nor will she leave the heavy lifts to the men in her Party. She will not be falsely charged, remain silent, and look for others - men - to defend her. She is plucky and unafraid.
While I disagree with her and I am prepared to oppose her politically, in the spirit of longed-for civility I say, Ms. Palin you are in a certain sense an example of the American dream: You have the courage to stand up and present your vision of America to its people. Your strength and lack of fear make America stronger and are examples to be emulated by girls and boys, men and women who are themselves afraid to speak up. You provide the example that they need for self-assurance.
Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.