“More of the Same” is a bad idea
** Old Post – just clearing up the backlog!**
I begin with a disclaimer. I don’t believe that Sarah Palin is responsible for the fatal shooting in Arizona this weekend, and I don’t believe it’s fair to lay blame for the deaths of innocent civilians at her doorstep. Mrs. Palin did not cause Jared Lee Loughner’s mental illness. She may have an incredible mastery of how to play the game, but she certainly did not write the rules.
That said her statement regarding the shooting was disconcerting, though I wasn’t sure why. Was it the fact she seemed so calm and collected even as about 2 minutes into the video the tone changes from “my condolences” to “it wasn’t me”? Was it the fact that the speech came nearly three days after the event, three days during which her name and reputation have been dragged to hell, something that even the most irrational politicians would have tried to damage-control ages ago? Was it that everything in the speech seemed far too managed to be sincere – from the US flag pin on her lapel, to the nondescript but familiar background, or the first time in ages that we’ve seen her hair completely down? All of these reasons offered some kind of promise but none adequately explained the disquiet I felt when watching Mrs. Palin’s message.
In fact, after some reflection, I think the thing about the speech that I find most unnerving is Mrs Palin’s insinuation that this event means nothing for American politics, and after the fray it will be business as usual. To be honest, I’ve always found it hard to believe that Mrs. Palin is as callous as people make her out to believe, preferring a narrative in which she’s more an overzealous, ill-informed individual. I expected that the 3-day cooling off period would have been an opportunity for political reinvention on Mrs. Palin’s part, in which she would not accept responsibility, fair enough, but attempt to point out that it was a moment of reinvention for the poisonous punditry and showmanship that has become so characteristic of American politics. I accept that it would have been a political gamble too far for her to in any way incriminate herself or her allies, but I at least hoped that she would rather have “taken the Democrats down with her” rather than turn around and insinuate “nobody did anything wrong”.
Frankly, from whatever way you look at it, this video is a disappointment. I’m not a US citizen – I have no binding life commitment to either political party, save to criticise where criticism is needed, and on this score, criticism is much needed. Politically, I think Mrs. Palin shot herself in the foot. It is not in her interest to appear defensive and antagonistic at a time of national mourning. Save for a single line implying agreement with President Obama, the bulk of the video focuses on hinting that the venomous rhetoric that has characterised the US political space in the last 2 years is “healthy” or “normal” when it is anything but. Take it from someone who votes in one of the poorly functioning democracies in the world – when politics becomes personal, and the right to hold contrary opinions is challenged not by ideas or debate but repeatedly through overly aggressive positioning, it’s a prelude to events like those we saw last weekend. Personally, it makes her look like a bad leader, given that one of the qualities that people look for in leaders in times of crisis is an ability to shoulder responsibility and point a way forward that isn’t “more of the same”.
In fact, if I had the opportunity to give Mrs. Palin any advice it would be that “more of the same” is a very bad idea. The reality is, in as much as the rest of the world loves to hate on the USA, citizens of most nations dream of having the kind of democracy that it has on it’s best days. The last two years have not been the USA’s best days. Instead of the self-assuredness and forward-thinking attitude that should come from a nation that has begun to overcome one of the darkest chapters in it’s history through a monumental election, we have self-doubt and backward thinking because some individuals insist on acting like pimply, awkward bullies. Rather than looking for ways to move forward with pride and mutual accommodation, we’ve seen misguided politicians rallying citizens around the very false notion that the 1700’s or 1800’s were some kind of golden age with people running around town brandishing guns and shooting up people or places they were unhappy with. And why? Because the sitting government made a few decisions that you disagree with or that threaten you financially?
Mrs. Palin, the world has changed, and for a moment it looked like the US democratic system had changed with it. “More of the same” – aggressive politicking using language laced with violent and retrogressive imagery – is not a good move. It’s time for the awkward bully to grow up. Violent rhetoric may not have created Jared Lee Loughner, but it created an environment in which his mental instability could go relatively unnoticed until it was too late to save the lives that were lost this Saturday.