Blood Libel Redux

In a fantastic display of (retroactive) irony, Dilshad D. Ali wrote, over a year ago, in November 2009 for InFocus News how Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, had criticized Sarah Palin for saying she was “all for” profiling against Muslims, comparing this to a blood libel.


This wretched week began or, rather, last week ended with the horrific assassination attempt of Arizona congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords: Jared Lee Loughner emptied a thirty-round clip into a crowd of people and seemed, by proxy, to have fulfilled the wishes of enthusiastic crowds who shouted “kill, kill, kill” at Sarah Palin’s 2008 election rallies with no interruption from Palin. If she had had any concerns about creating her own blood libel then, it was not obvious. She seems only to have encouraged this behaviour.

Following the shooting, the entire universe called out the Republican, anti-Progressive hate machine and demanded a rational explanation for their continuous and obnoxious use of martial imagery and violent rhetoric. Sarah Palin was brought to task (yet again!) for her gunsight/crosshairs/target map. Twitter poster, SarahPalinUSA, had bragged:

Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate; T’aint bad).

That particular Twitter post was deleted not long thereafter. I can’t help think they might try claiming never to have posted it [update: they did, but then began a long process of maneuvering into a statement resembling, “yeah, well, so what?”]. SarahPAC did finally remove the “cross hairs” graphic from their website but only after one of the featured “targets” was actually shot! Many months of criticism had met closed ears about what appeared to any decent and rational person to be the obvious, bullying and supremely inappropriate use of personal threats against named individuals. It must be disappointing to be forced to wish that an actual and tangible, real-world example of assassination could be cleverly explained away, especially since so much effort had been put into insisting violent rhetoric would have no such effect!

Where is the decency?

On Monday, 10 January, Glenn Reynolds wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he reprimanded the world for their criticism, with no apparent evidence that he was aware of Dilshad D. Ali’s article just two months before, opinined, “Where is the decency in blood libel?”

Whether Sarah Palin only coincidentally also misunderstood the meaning of the phrase, “blood libel” or just took the lead from Reynolds, I do not know. Two days later, on Wednesday, 12 January, Sarah Palin complained (presumably before the ink had dried on her contract with Fox) about how unfair everyone had been for linking her constant use of violent rhetoric and imagery to the actual, real life attempted murder of one of her named targets. She accused journalists and pundits (that is, “Liberals”), saying they:

…manufacture a blood libel…

Simon Greer, president of The Jewish Fund for Justice, is not, I hope, the only person disturbed by her self-pitying misappropriation of the term. But these two instances are not the first (nor even second) examples of broad, cognitively dissonant misuse of the expression. I stumbled upon, quite by accident, some interesting background and examples of the near rampant misuse of the phrase blood libel in political discourse. Jim Geraghty documented many of the hilariously foolish  instances of the phrase blood libel used over the span of only a single decade: Andrew Sullivan, against gays; Mikey Weinstein (mentioned above), against Sarah Palin; Peter Deutsch, against Republicans; Jed Babbin accused John Kerry, Michael Barone accused Micheal Dukakis, John Hood accused a newspaper. Eugene Robinson described the treatment of black men.

In his defense, Eugene Robinson probably comes the closest to a passable metaphorical re-use. Most of these and many more not cited, bizarrely invoked the ancient accusation against the Jews with (apparently) little awareness of its actual history. One particularly poignant example, seen only with eleven years clarity of hindsight, seemed to have single-handedly opened the door to a parade of gaffes for the first decade of the millennium. In November 2000, Josh Marshall wrote that Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch, who used the phrase blood libel to characterize Republican attacks against Al Gore, could “get away with this statement, in part, because he’s Jewish.”

The impassioned critiques, while well-founded, against Palin’s regurgitation of the phrase (if not just of her martial pandering) are only slightly overblown. It is not that I think she should continue unchallenged. Rather, that this criticism is truly wasted on the wrong audience. Her consistent habit of employing violent imagery and hate-speech rhetoric works toward the end of inflaming the unschooled passions of a credulous audience. Violence, unfortunately, is the very element which makes her so appealing to those who admire her: She speaks their language. I could hope, unrealistically, that her supporters, fans and defenders  will come to their senses and quit paying any attention to her. I would then expect to be completely and continuously disappointed. But I can at least derive some pleasure in the promise that for as long as she continues to promote the anti-Progressive, pro-theocratic, martial based agenda she was hired to promote and, as long as great throngs of unthinking peasants continue to shower her with adoration and praise, she will at least continue to entertain the rational world with magnificent displays of feet inserted so forcefully and confidently in her own mouth. This wish has been granted so often in the recent past that I now feel almost entitled to repeat performances.

Is “Tone” the Problem?

No calls for a universal toning down of rhetoric will last for more than a fortnight. Nor should it! Tone is not the problem. How reasonable would it be to expect that the very people who despise immigrants, hate homosexuals, refuse to promote the general welfare will all suddenly, politely, tone down? People who talk and behave as though the greatest expression of civic duty is to brandish a sidearm are not people who are ready to contribute to civil discussion, less capable of minding their tone.

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