By Brendan Loy
As you may have heard, former Republican vice-presidential nominee and future presidential candidate Sarah Palin today decided it would be a good idea, on the very day of the memorial service for the victims of a deranged, ideologically incoherent lunatic’s murderous rampage in Arizona, to respond to her critics by accusing them of “manufacturing a blood libel” against her. In classic Palin fashion, she further inflamed the situation by the use of that loaded term. In classic Palin fashion, she played the victim — always her favorite and most compelling role — even in a situation where there are actual victims lying dead or wounded who deserve the public’s attention far more than she. In classic Palin fashion, she appealed to her base by taking the best-defense-is-a-good-offense tack against her critics, stoking the flames of culture war instead of making any effort, any at all, to rise above the fray and appeal to the better angels of our natures.
Moreover, in classic Palin fashion, she made no distinction between those among her critics, like the execrable Kos, who really did accuse her of being morally responsible in some way for the shooting, and those who merely suggested, with varying degrees of subtlety and sensitivity, that perhaps, although Palin isn’t morally responsible, this was nevertheless an opportune moment to tone down the type of rhetoric and imagery she and others have, in fact, used (imagery which Giffords herself feared could lead to violence — a salient fact that was bound to be reported, not “manufactured,” by any responsible news media, even though there is no indication — as most have acknowledged — that the actual shooter in this incident was inspired by her imagery or rhetoric). She simply lumped these various people all together as purveyors of a “blood libel.”
Most of all, in classic Palin fashion, she made sure today would be all about her.
A good politician, a self-aware public figure, a true leader, would not have allowed the basest of her critics to set the terms of the discussion, and would not have sunk to their level, as Palin always seems to do. Instead, such a figure would have used the unfair attacks as an opportunity to elevate the discussion and, in a classy way, to “be the better person,” to find a minor point she can concede and then challenge others to do the same. In this way, she would have united and instead of divided, healed wounds instead of pouring salt on them, subtly scored a few political points without anyone even realizing she’d done so, and then turned the focus back where it belongs (hint: not on her).
As I wrote on Twitter earlier, “For me, as a father of two daughters and a believer in the democratic process, this tragedy is about a 9-year-old girl murdered because she was trying to participate in the democratic process. That’s an unspeakable tragedy and atrocity. This is about her. It’s not about Palin. I hate the Left for making it about Palin, and I hate Palin for making sure it continues to be about Palin.”
As I also wrote on Twitter earlier, “Sarah Palin reminds me of myself during my blog’s peak. Overly defensive and lacking self-awareness about it. I suspect she, like me back then, knows she’s being defensive, but feels it’s justified and doesn’t see the bigger picture. She knows the defensiveness bothers some people, but figures they are her enemies anyway. All right-thinking people understand! What can be hard to recognize, in the heat of the moment, is that the defensiveness turns people off, even if you’re right.”
It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit that about myself and my history, since, as an aspiring lawyer, I should have known better. But my “lawyer” hat and my “blogger” hat are two very different things, and never the twain shall meet. On my blog, once upon a time, I was a keyboard warrior, fighting pitched battles just like Palin, albeit on a vastly smaller scale. In retrospect, I quit blogging for a while in 2008 and 2009 partly because it burned me out, all the fighting, all the sniping, all the endless defensiveness.
The difference, of course, is that I was a law-school student and blogger. She wants to be President of the United States. Also, I was 24 or 25, childless, jobless, a long-time student in a bit of a life-bubble — still a mere child myself, really — and sorely lacking in perspective, as many people at that age and life situation are. I may still occasionally fall into a similar trap even these days, but for the most part, I look back now on some of the old rantish blog debates, in which I fervently defended myself against my & the Irish Trojan Blog’s critics, and feel more than a little embarrassed by the over-the-top manner in which I conducted myself — lumping the genuine blog-trolls (my analogs to Kos) in with the more rational critics, escalating every debate to a fever pitch, going on and on and on and on about the most mundane and insignificant slights, and feeling justified in all of it because I could always depend on certain regulars (my “base”) to leap to my defense. Even where I still feel I was completely right on the merits of a particular issue, I debased myself in the process of trying to prove it. I realize that now.
Palin, meanwhile, is 45 years old, a mother of five, a former half-term governor of a state and a national political figure — in other words, someone who you’d think would have a little more perspective and self-awareness. Yet she appears to feel absolutely no embarrassment whatsoever about her endlessly defensive and inflammatory posture toward everything. Whether it’s accusing her political critics of “blood libel” in the midst of a national tragedy, or publicly flogging the teenage father of her grandson, or needlessly extending the shelf-life of a controversy in which a talk-show host inadvertently (but, yes, offensively) insulted her underage daughter, she seems completely incapable of embarrassment or self-reflection or magnanimousness with regard to anything. She doesn’t know how to respond to her critics except by stooping to their level and fighting them in the trenches, taking every little kerfuffle and controversy and “going nuclear” with it, making every debate another battle in the endless culture war that is her public life. And she has no idea that, in the long run, this is not a good thing for her to do.
To call her behavior “unpresidential” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
There’s a reason why polls show that, even among Palin’s most fervent supporters, even among the “base” conservatives who worship the ground she walks on because she is absolutely the perfect culture warrior, a non-negligible percentage say they can’t picture her as president and don’t really want her to run. She has no filter, no self-control, no self-awareness, so she constantly behaves in a manner that’s simply unbecoming a president. Some might not articulate it quite that way, but I think many people viscerally recognize this. And I think that, more than anything about her ideology or her resumé or even her mannerisms and perceived intelligence level, this is what will prevent Sarah Palin from become ever occupying the White House (thanks be to God). She hasn’t the foggiest idea how to act like a president, and she steadfastly refuses to surround herself with those who would temper her urge to fight every battle and help her see the big picture, because she regards those people as, by definition, out-of-touch establishment elitists.
Perhaps most importantly, she has more than enough fervent supporters backing her at every turn — folks who, if she declared tomorrow that the sky is purple, would proclaim from the rooftops that she’s right, and that anyone who claims otherwise is engaging in an outrageous, hateful campaign against her — that it seems unlikely anyone will ever get through to her on this point. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Today was perhaps her last chance to turn it around, and she didn’t. Because she can’t. She doesn’t know how. This is simply who she is.
And she’s just inspired me to write about her for a good half-hour, while the memorial service is going on. And for that, I hate her and I hate myself. Ugh.
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