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Reflections on Sarah Palin's Statement About the Tucson Tragedy

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) January 12, 2011: Sarah Palin is a self-centered, just as President Ronald Reagan was. On January 12th, Palin issued a statement titled "America's Enduring Strength" in which she responds at length to her critics. But there are problems with her defense of herself.

Before we turn our attention to her statement, let's briefly review the case. As we all know, Jared Lee Loughner attempted to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday in Tucson. He did not succeed in killing her. But he did seriously wound her and numerous other people, and he killed six other people.

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After Loughner's shooting spree, the media were quick to point out that Palin had targeted Congresswoman Giffords, among others, in the recent 2010 mid-term election.

In due time, the media were able to establish that Loughner had indeed attended a gathering that Congresswoman Giffords hosted a few years ago. According to media reports based on information from Loughner's friends, he had asked her a question that I would characterize as incoherent and unintelligible. For understandable reasons, Congresswoman Giffords did not give Loughner a response that he could judge as a satisfactory response to his question. No one could have. According to reports from his friends, he formed a very negative view of her at that time.

But that event occurred a few years ago. Thus far, the media reports about Loughner have not established any connection between him and the Congresswoman's 2010 reelection campaign. In other words, no media reports thus far show that Loughner knew of Palin's targeting of Congresswoman Giffords in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Nevertheless, the lack of any such link did not deter certain media commentators from focusing on Palin's cross-hair imagery in targeting Congresswoman Giffords.

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For this reason, I would say that the media commentators over-reacted and unfairly singled Palin out for sharp criticism.

I hope that I have demonstrated that there is a reasonable way for Palin to criticize her critics.

In her January 12th statement titled "America's Enduring Strength," Palin characterizes her critics as using Loughner's bloody shooting spree to "manufacture a blood libel" against her. I guess that the expression "blood libel" means that her critics are libeling her by suggesting that she somehow indirectly contributed to the bloodshed in Tucson.

For this reason, Palin accuses her critics of "incit[ing] the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

But is there a difference between inciting hatred of someone's acts and deeds, on the one hand, and, on the other, inciting hatred of the doer of those acts and deeds? There is an adage, "Love the sinner, but not the sin." Or is this injunction an impossible standard?

But if this injunction is not an impossible standard, she could in theory use it in her own self-defense regarding how she targeted Congresswoman Giffords, among others, and she could also urge her critics to use this distinction regarding their criticism of her. However, if she were to use this adage in her own self-defense, then she would be obliged to follow the adage herself. Instead of referring to Loughner as "a single evil man," she would have to refer to his evil act instead of making a sweeping characterization of him.

Palin does characterize Loughner as an "apparently apolitical criminal." I like her use of the qualifying word "apparently." As I've noted, Loughner is reported to have attended an earlier event with Congresswoman Giffords and to have responded negatively to her response to him at that event. But Loughner may be a nihilist or anarchist. If he is a nihilist or an anarchist, then he is not apolitical. Nevertheless, he may not have known about Palin's targeting of congresswoman Giffords in the 2010 mid-term elections. From Palin's standpoint, this may mean that he was apolitical in terms of her political advertising.

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But Palin quotes President Ronald Reagan as saying, "We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker."

That's nonsense, I say. Centuries ago, John Donne got it right when he said that no man is an island. In other words, each individual person's subjectivity is the product of intersubjectivity. Not just the individual persons around us, but the entire juggernaut of our cultural conditioning as Americans contribute to and influence the development of each person's subjectivity, including the local, state, and federal laws.

In his 1888 utopian novel LOOKING BACKWARDS: 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy uses imaginative fiction and fictional characters to argue that our American laws and customs are responsible for turning out so many criminals.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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