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Off The Reservation: Public Discourse


Sarah Palin - "Blood-Libel"Hours before President Barack Obama’s address to attendees of a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, Sarah Palin released a video titled “America’s Enduring Strength.” Her comments are tinged with appropriate sadness at first, before her sword turns against those who, she believes, are guilty of sullying the “national discourse”: namely, journalists.

During the video she accuses the press and the pundits who attempted to draw a link between her website and the shootings in Tucson of “blood libel.” The phrase “blood libel” originally referred to the anti-Semitic claim that during the Middle Ages Jews killed Christian children and used their blood in religious rituals. Now it will forever live on here in relation to a national American tragedy as conservative figures such as Palin attempt to appropriate historic and religious language for their own gain.

Palin’s misuse of historical references is nothing new. Her shocking lack of contextual understanding is an embarrassment to the nation, yet she persists, delivering ratings and gaining popularity. To continue with religious parallels for a moment, perhaps this memorial address by the president will be his road to Damascus moment; the great turning point in his presidency during which he transcends politics and becomes the vision of hope that fueled his ascent to our nation’s highest office.


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By imputing journalists for tainting the national discourse, she inherently protects herself from the deserved vitriol over her sloppy remarks. The big problems with Palin’s video are that 1) she made it and 2) we’re watching. In it she bristles at being dragged into the limelight over this issue, though the very act of releasing the video furthers her involvement. Doing it on the day the president attempts to soothe the nation’s sorrow over the shootings and using the phrase “President Obama and I” reveal her true intention, which is to be seen as the de facto leader of conservative America. The not-so-silent majority.

Even more peculiar is the use of this video to excoriate journalists for taking part in public discourse while defending the freedoms we enjoy as Americans to engage in it. Palin is a walking, talking oxymoron—emphasis on the latter half of the word. This is essential to understanding Palin’s misunderstanding of America and the spirit of the documents that craft our existence to this day. In attempting to defend civil discourse by casting aspersions on the most valuable aspect of it—freedom of the press—she is engaging in rhetorical discourse and hoping the average American is incapable of discerning between the two. Civil discourse is what the Founding Fathers she is so fond of misinterpreting spent their lives trying to defend. Rhetorical discourse is a hallmark of demagoguery, the true philosophy to which Palin subscribes.

As a nation, we would be wise to tread lightly here. There is a grand chasm now in the media between punditry and journalism that previously existed as a slight divide. Increasingly it is becoming impossible to discern between what is vetted (journalism) and what is contrived for ratings (punditry). And because information is so readily available and propaganda is professionally disguised as gospel, false prophets in the guise of pundits have an incredible ability to take advantage of the masses.

Predictably, Palin plays to her followers by referencing the Founding Fathers, though her knowledge of these men and their actions skims the surface at best. In ecumenical tones, she says that “public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis but of our enduring strength. In times like these we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides.” This is a favorite refrain of the new conservative movement—to draw straight lines between faith and freedom while evoking the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. But these are words that, spoken in foreign tongues, are considered the vocabulary of zealots and extremists. Yet spoken in measured, folksy tones, they have come to embody the political and spiritual zeitgeist in America today. Palin and other so-called fundamentalist Christians who have risen to prominence in our nation fail to realize the decidedly secular importance of a godless Constitution—which is to say that God is not part of our Constitution and our Founding Fathers fought heartily and purposefully to ensure it.
And so it should be said then that Palin has every Constitutional right and freedom to release this video. Just as I have every right to call her a dangerous idiot. (Thank you, Founding Fathers!)

If you wish to comment on “Off the Reservation,” send your message to jmorey@longislandpress.com

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