— Andrew Sullivan’s comments on a portion of last night’s New Hampshire debate that stuck out to me.
Of course Mark Halperin should not be fired for saying on MSNBC that President Obama had been “kind of a dick” when sounding angry at Republicans during his press conference yesterday. I say that notwithstanding the certainty that if some other “mainstream” journalist had said the same about George W. Bush on MSNBC or CNN, the outrage would never have been allowed to ebb on Fox and the Limbaugh show. (Angry Obama picture yesterday, via CBS)
The real problem is the dickishness of our mainstream political analysis, especially from the “savviest” practitioners. Back during my days as media critic, I argued in Breaking the News and a related Atlantic cover story that the laziest and ultimately most destructive form of political coverage came when journalists seemed to imagine that they were theater critics or figure-skating judges. The what of public affairs didn’t interest them. All they cared about was the how.
In this case, the “what” of Obama’s press conference — the unbelievable recklessness of mainly House Republicans in inviting the largest self-inflicted economic wound in American history — deserves every bit of frustration Obama showed, and lots more. In the long run we’ll have some sense of whether Obama’s typical surreal unflappability, whatever its origins (I have my theories, but for another time), was the wisest long-term response to today’s Republican party — and whether this unusual flash of emotion worked in directing public attention to a looming and entirely unnecessary blow to America’s wellbeing.
But the real news of the press conference, of course, was the economic, financial, political, and Constitutional showdown Obama was discussing. Not to understand that, and to act as if this was a free-skate program where a contestant should be judged on poise, costume, and sticking the landings, is just dickish.
Mark Halperin Is A Dick
Forget the suspension. What’s interesting to me is how this non-pareil in empty conventional wisdom hacks viewed yesterday’s presser. In the negotiations with the Republicans, Obama and the Dems have offered a couple of trillion in cuts. The Republicans have refused even to discuss increasing tax revenues in return. For the president to react with understated anger strikes me as perfectly natural and overdue. And it comes with the amnesiac, news-cycle crap that Halperin routinely peddles that this basic fact should be ignored for a faux equivalence.
It’s not the word, in other words. It’s the empty beltwayism behind it. That’s what Halperin should be suspended for. But it was, of course, the reason he was hired."
I’ll stand with Jon Chait and, oddly enough, Sarah Palin on this one: Palin is right to feel aggrieved. As Chait says, many have blamed her for a killing rampage that she had nothing to do with. A lot of Palin’s rhetoric is over the top, and her gun metaphors (“RELOAD!”) and her target sights looked unsettling in light of subsequent events, but those subsequent events were not her fault. Too many were too quick to imply she had a significant role in them.
Moreover, I just don’t care if Palin thought “blood libel” was a vivid way of saying “nasty smear” instead of a description of the once-common anti-Semitic trope that Jews murder Christian children because their blood is needed to bake matzoh. I’m Jewish, so I know the term well. But I imagine the history of it is more obscure to those who didn’t attend Hebrew school. This is not worth the headlines it’s been getting.
What is remarkable to me, however, is Palin’s ability to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Palin didn’t ask to be part of this story. But she did choose how to respond to it. Imagine if Palin had come out and said, “My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to an unhealthy political climate, I have to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than merely sharpen my defenses.” That would’ve been leadership: It would have made her critics look small, and it would’ve made her look big. Those who doubted whether Palin could rise to an occasion that called for more than sharp partisanship would’ve been silenced.
Of course, Palin didn’t say that. Al Sharpton did (or at least he said something very close). Palin accused her opponents of propagating a “blood libel.” Rather than admitting that we all sometimes go too far, and that we must constantly work to see the humanity in others and tamp down on the dangerous certainty we have in ourselves, she lashed out at her critics, mocked the idea that political rhetoric was ever “less heated” and noted that there was a time when politicians settled disputes through duels.
So that’s Palin’s substantive response: Politics has never been reliably civil, her critics are unfair to her and at least she’s not shot anybody. All that is true. But you won’t find “stop bothering me, this tragedy isn’t my fault” in the chapter headings of any books on leadership. Palin could’ve taken this opportunity to look very big, and instead she now looks very small. And that’s not the fault of her detractors or her map. It’s her fault, and her fault alone.
My problem with Palin, in this instance at least, isn’t necessarily that she caused Loughner to go on his shooting rampage, though her violent and virulent rhetoric hasn’t helped ease tensions around the country. Rather, it’s that she’s using Saturday as part of her continuing endeavour to paint herself as the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy. She ignores that she puts herself into these positions of regular criticism through her uneducated remarks, dismissal of those not in-line with her as not part of “real America” and, the aforementioned, victim card she tries to play.
Per Andrew Sullivan:
One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn’t you? If you had publicly defended a map with cross-hairs on a congresswoman’s district, and that congresswoman had subsequently been shot, would you not be able to express even some measure of regret at what has taken place, even while denying, rightly, any actual guilt? Could you not even acknowledge the possibility that your critics have and had a point, including the chief Palin-critic on this, who happens to be struggling for her life in hospital, Gabrielle Giffords.
But no. That would require acknowledging misjudgment. Palin cannot acknowledge misjudgment, as she cannot admit error. It would require rising to an occasion, rather than sinking to it. And to moderate that tone, to acknowledge that one can make an error, to defend oneself from unfair accusations while acknowledging the need for a calmer discourse in future - this is beyond her.
It is, of course, also her strategy. She can only win in a hugely polarized country. She has as little support outside the Republican base as she has a cult following within it. And she has decided that this occasion for introspection is actually an opportunity to double down.
There is something menacing about that.
And Josh Marshall:
Today has been set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre. And Sarah Palin has apparently decided she’s one of them.
“the use of this particular term in this context isn’t ideal.
Ironically, it may lead to a more honest discussion of the phrase than we’ve typically seen in the mainstream media. It may.
It took her only ten minutes to make sure that any criticism of Palin was qualified. And they say this isn’t Palin’s party. My first impression of the political and rhetorical escalation by Palin: she’s going for broke on this. She thrives off this emotional polarization and is seeking, like all demagogues, to exploit it. She wants to turn this into a right-left war, thereby fortifying her grip on the right’s base. If the establishment does nothing in response, she gains a more secure grip on the apparatus.
Jim Geraghty tries to defend Palin by saying, essentially, “Other people have said ‘blood libel’ too!”
Let’s take a look at his examples of other uses, as posted on the National Review:
The use of the term “blood libel” in non-Jewish contexts is out of bounds, eh?
Andrew Sullivan, October 10, 2008:
A couple of obvious thoughts. Paladino speaks of “perverts who target our children and seek to destroy their lives.” This is the gay equivalent of the medieval (and Islamist) blood-libel against Jews.
Sullivan here is a drawing a direct comparison between the all-encompassing nature of Paladino’s all gays are perverts and the persecution of Jews. That he misidentifies the blood libel as Islamist and not Christian - it originated in Matthew in the 2nd century CE - is for another time.
Ann Coulter’s column, October 30, 2008:
His expert pontificator on race was The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, who said the Pittsburgh hoax was “the blood libel against black men concerning the defilement of the flower of Caucasian womanhood. It’s been with us for hundreds of years and, apparently, is still with us.”
Again, Robinson is drawing a comparison between the two. Blacks in America have long faced unfounded and racist claims of a widespread, ingrown targeting of white women.
From a the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, September 30, 2009:
Almost immediately following the aftermath of the shooting, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation was the unlikely voice that called for the safeguard of Muslims in the armed forces.
Within hours of the news breaking, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein called upon President Barack Obama to “immediately issue a statement as Commander-in-Chief making it clear that there would be a zero-tolerance policy against any member of the U.S. military inflicting harassments, retribution or reprisal against an Islamic member of the U.S. military.” …
He criticized former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for saying that she was “all for” profiling against Muslims.
“We’re not painting all Jews as thieves for Madoff’s economic crimes,” said Weinstein, comparing Palin’s comments to a “blood libel.”
Again, a comparison of the characterization of all members of a group, and their descendents, as responsible for a single action, in this case Muslims as being responsible for all terrorism and thus subject to heightened scrutiny because their Muslim and Muslims are terorrists, ad infinitum.
Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch last night on Crossfire:
Let me just talk a little bit about the whole, I guess, spin from the Republicans about — which has been to me the absolute most — the worst statements I have ever heard probably in my life about anything. I mean, almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. That is the most absurd thing and absolutely has no basis in fact at all.
This is just a poor use of the phrase, in that it references the targeting of a single person rather than a group of individuals with a shared trait.
In the grand scheme of things, the idea that Palin used a phrase associated with one particular, egregious and historically recurring false accusation to rebut a modern false accusation seems like little reason for outrage. For perspective on what really is worth outrage, the services for 9-year-old victim Christina Taylor Green are tomorrow.
The problem though with this concluding paragraph, and his last example of Peter Deutsch’s usage, is that Peter Deutsch wasn’t running for the office of the President. Sarah Palin, presumably is. Additionally, Peter Deutsch didn’t have the same public identity that Palin does. People don’t hang on his every word; I’d venture most people don’t even know who he is. Hell, I had to look him up to see what seat he represented - Florida’s 20th from 1993 to 2005.
Every word Sarah Palin says is scrutinized because she holds such a high profile in American politics and society today. She has shown no qualms about entering into nearly every political discussion, whether qualified or not (guess which I believe to be true) and for this she is both reviled and glorified.
The issue regarding Palin’s usage of the phrase is, like Deutsch, she was using it to describe an attack against a single person. Unlike Deutsch, she used it in defense of herself, which makes her video/statement not about the Tucson shooting, but about herself. Palin again turns things around to make herself the victim, a ploy that plays into the mindset of her supporters and further rankles her detractors.
EDIT: Also, that Gabrielle Giffords is the highest seated Jewish person in the Arizona delegation and Sarah Palin is avowedly and unabashedly Christian doesn’t help Palin.
A reader writes:
I have read the Dish for four years, but this is the first time I’m emailing, just to point out that Papa Bear needs to get to know his scriptures a bit better. O’Reilly closes with “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” a quote that not only does not appear in the Bible, but actually is from the Koran - a document O’Reilly has not appeared to appreciate much at all. This secular progressive is happy to help him out with his religious confusion.
From 13:11 in the Koran:
Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves