Main Site         

Why Sarah Palin really is to blame

2011 January 14
by Paul Vallely

Is Sarah Palin to blame for the shooting of the Arizona politician Gabrielle Giffords in which six other people died? When journalists ask a question like that in a headline or at the top of an article the answer, almost always, is No. If it were not, they would have preferred a bald assertion to the innuendo of a question. Yet sometimes things are not quite so straightforward.

Had anyone, a month ago, asked the populist potential presidential candidate, in public or in private, if she wanted Ms Gifford dead she would have said No. That is what we assume, at any rate, for we take basic human decency as the default among those who stand for public office.

Mrs Palin’s critics blame her because she published on her website last year a map of 20 key Republican target seats with the crosshairs of a rifle sights on each – including the Arizona constituency of Gabrielle Giffords. She left it up even after the congresswoman warned that such “actions have consequences” and asked Mrs Palin and others to tone down their language.

Add to that the Palin campaign slogan “Don’t retreat, instead reload”, and a general tendency – everywhere from shock jock radio to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel – to rhetorical rage and overheated hyperbole, and it is hard not to conclude that an identification between guns and politics is being nurtured which is reckless in a country which has seen four sitting presidents, not to mention several other prominent public figures, assassinated.

Supporters of Mrs Palin respond that words are very different from actions. But there can be no doubt that political discourse, like so much else in modern life, has been coarsened. In a culture where guns seem universal – Arizona has just become the third state to allow people to carry a concealed weapon without requiring a permit – the combination is incendiary.

We should guard against the temptation here to freight personal tragedy with greater political significance than it should carry. The nine year old who died, Christina Taylor Green, was born – it was widely noted – on September 11th 2001. She had featured in a book on “children of hope” born on 9/11.  But it is not her birthday which causes the anguish among her family this week, so much as the date and random nature of her death.

Yet nor should we be naïve. When the bodyguard who assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, appeared in court in Islamabad the other day he was showered with rose petals by sympathisers, including a number of lawyers. Mr Taseer’s offence had been to call for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws after a Christian woman in Punjab who was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, something she denied doing. There are those for whom human lives are expendable in pursuit of a bigoted political or religious ideology.

Supporters of Mrs Palin, like the woman herself, are being disingenuous when they say that there was no link between politics and the shooting. The gunman did not chose to shoot up Mountain View High School from which he dropped out in 2006. Nor did he fire on the fast food restaurant Quiznos from which he was fired or the local animal shelter who asked him to stop volunteering there. He did not target Pima Community College police who had disciplined him for classroom and library disruptions nor Pima County Court which convicted him of “possession of drug paraphernalia”. Nor did he go for the US Army which rejected him when he admitted using marijuana on numerous occasions during his application to join the military. No he chose to shoot at a politician and those meeting her. However disordered his mental health something in the culture in which he lived made him make a link between politics and violence.

Members of the public who posted comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook site criticising the Alaskan politician this week found them removed in a matter of seconds. Yet one was left up about the dead schoolgirl – who at nine was already serving on her school’s student council and working for a charity called Kids Helping Kids.

It said: “It’s ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left-wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as ‘they’ say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.” Whether it was intended to be serious or sardonic it is hard to see why a politician dedicated to the common good would not remove such a debased remark.

So it may be excessive to suggest that Sarah Palin has blood beneath her heavily manicured fingernails. But it is clear that her style, so emblematic of the madness that has entered American politics, is doing nothing to help. It is a corruption of political culture which must be arrested.

from The Church Times

Comments are closed.