Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Palin Can't Win On "Blood Libel"

There has been a lot of commentary on Sarah Palin’s “blood libel” remark, but I haven’t seen the following key point.

Either she was aware that the comment would offend a large segment of the population or she was ignorant of the fact. Either way, she has exhibited gross incompetence. It’s a no-win situation for Palin. End of story.

If she was aware, that’s damning evidence of cruelty. Compounding the evil, in this case, would be the timing, right after Gabby Giffords, who is Jewish, was shot. And let's not forget that Palin's prefab address was released so as to hit the news on the same day as the President's expression of mourning.

But also egregious would be the other possibility--ignorance--since leaders are supposed to be acutely aware of the public landscape and display talent at avoiding invidious gaffes.

No matter how much Palin and her team bluster about being maligned, it is clear from simple reasoning that she is in the wrong--no matter what. Either malice or grave ignorance was involved. And either way, Palin has revealed her inferior mettle.

Palin’s unfolding defense is that she acted in innocence. The term “blood libel,” she claims, is mainstream and has no anti-Semitic repercussions.

However, as noted above, this defense just isn’t good enough. If you’re going to be a leader, it is not sufficient that YOU think a phrase is harmless; you have to know the topology of the people’s thoughts, especially in very sensitive times.

So, Palin displayed a woeful ignorance. As a leader, she should have known what would happen when she defiantly described herself as a victim of blood libel.

There’s no way to squirm out of the feebleness.

As a philosophical exercise, here is Palin’s best, yet failing, attempt at defense:

She could claim that the people who are outraged are being irrational. There’s no way she could be expected to know they would be outraged, so she is totally innocent. You can’t be ignorant of something that no one could reasonably be expected to know. Other people have used the term “blood libel” without sparking a mass reaction.

But Palin was speaking to all of America via national announcement at a tender time, which requires the highest level of responsibility. Other users of the term were speaking to specialized audiences in non-crisis contexts that didn't involve the attempted assassination of a prominent Jew who was one of Palin's political "targets."

As we all know by now, Palin put Giffords in crosshairs on a map of who to eliminate from office. And of course, Palin's crowd-riling phrase, "Don't retreat, reload" is now infamous.

All this speaks to a sensitive national context that Palin appears to have completely ignored--because she was ignorant of its relevance.

Furthermore, the logical ties between the concept of blood libel and anti-Semitism are obvious in the historical linkage. The fraught history of the term would be easy to research and check out by asking Jews. The fact that Gabby Giffords was Jewsih compounds the delicacy of the situation.

A prudent leader would clearly have avoided the term because it might be controversial to some people.

Or, if Palin had done the research and made a couple of calls to Jewish organizations, she also could have avoided the term. But she didn’t do her homework, she assumed all would be fine, a major fail that speaks of callous and arrogant presumption.

Her best defense, then, that there was no way she could have known her remark would bring uproar, is absurd. In fact, there was an easy way to check on the public effect of using "blood libel" by making a few phone calls.

Maybe Palin was ignorant of the history of the word "blood libel" at the time she used it. If she was, that's poor leadership. If she wasn't, that's also poor leadership. A few precautionary calls to Jewish organizations would have resulted in avoiding all the trouble her statement caused.

Palin just can’t avoid the charge of ignorance, no matter how much she snakes to evade. Unless she wants to accept the charge of malice instead, but that's far worse than ignorance, which is bad enough.

Personally, though, I think there is evidence that she is narcissistic, a self-absorbed limelight junkie. A narcissist would maximize the sensationalism, as Palin seemed to do when she timed her remarks to coincide with Obama’s speech. A narcissist would do something shocking and disruptive, just for more day in the media glow.

At least subconsciously, a stage-loving star like Palin could be acting out in order to gain publicity. If this is so, the use of “blood libel” involved not just woeful ignorance, but underhanded malice.


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