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Was Sarah Palin's 'Blood Libel' Comment a 'Dog Whistle' -- or Just Inadvertent?

3 years ago
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By now you probably know that Sarah Palin released a new video on the Tucson shootings, accusing the media of "blood libel."

Specifically, she said: "Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

As Tom Diemer and David Gibson noted, the term " 'Blood libel' is an extraordinarily loaded phrase because it recalls the false accusation by Christians against Jews that was used for centuries as an excuse for anti-Semitic persecution. The libel generally refers to the charge that Jews required human blood, and in particular the blood of Christian children, to bake matzoh bread."

(In keeping with the finger-pointing that has become ubiquitous this week, it is important to note that liberals have used this term before, as well. In fact, it isn't terribly uncommon.)

But as is often the case, when Sarah Palin says something, it gets media attention.

The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz Tweeted, "There was some sympathy for Palin over being tied to shooting, + she chose to go inflammatory. Blood libel has special resonance for Jews." And Politico's Ben Smith speculated on Twitter that because Michael Goldfarb (who is very knowledgeable on Jewish issues) is a Palin aide, that Palin and her team "get the context -- so this is a pot being stirred, not an accident."

Some believe this could be an example of "dog whistle" politics. I'm not so sure. A cipher works when the only people who hear the "dog whistle" are your complicit allies. That is clearly not the case in this instance. And so if others can immediately decode it, is it a dog whistle?

My guess is that this is simply a case of ignorance on the part of Palin and the speechwriter -- and I don't mean that in a derogatory way. Simply put, a lot of people don't realize that these loaded terms have deeper and more sinister meanings. (How many people who use the term the term "gypped" realize it is an insult to Gypsies?)

I once had a colleague who was very smart and talented. One day in the office this person referred to Barack Obama as a "boy." (My colleague thought that because Obama was relatively young and inexperienced, this would be a good line for John McCain to use against him.) This person had absolutely no idea that "boy" would be a very, very bad thing to call the then-senator -- and was incredulous when we explained the history of how African-American men were demeaned by this term. It was a case of ignorance, not malice. (Thank God this colleague tested the idea on us before going public.)

I also think the fact that Sarah Palin resides in Alaska is more significant than most people realize. The state's culture and history is quite different from that of the "lower 48." My guess is that she was oblivious to the sensitivities and "political correctness" that many Americans recognize. In some cases, this is refreshing. In other cases, as in this one, it is politically damaging.

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5 Comments

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vobox3343

Yes, I believe Palin to be an opportunist and not your average-American anything. What average-American has an American flag beside their fireplace? It appears she's all about image.

January 13 2011 at 12:31 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
nortem

I would say Palin was most likely unaware of the term, that fits in with her basic superficial, aggressive and unlearned stance on a multitude of issues. Her speech writers, handlers and aides however, like the above mentioned Michael Goldfarb are the ones who should know the meaning of that term especially if they are guiding her, writing her speeches and directing her videos. They are trying way too hard to push their agenda and an event like this opens a small window to see the public relations machine and people behind Sarah Palin, only this time they made an irreparable mistake in their bid to have her as president.

January 13 2011 at 8:05 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
puzzleguy1

"Dog whistle"? "Inadvertent"? How about CARELESS??? Palin has consistently show herself to be anything but a deep thinker or who who gives pause before running her mouth and thus reflects before speaking. No doubt she saw the phrase "blood libel" used by others, assumed she knew what it meant, and appropriated it, never bothering to wonder "Does this mean what I think it means?" What we are dealing with her, is symptomatic of a deeper problem with Palin; i.e. she does not engage in self-examination or self-criticism. She believes that she is beyond all that; that she knows it all. Thus, when her behavior is called into question, her immediate response is to assume the role of victim and go into counter-attack mode. It just doesn't occur to her that she MIGHT be in the wrong.

January 13 2011 at 7:42 AM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
shescookie

Of course it was deliberate. And it turned the spotlight from the dead girl and others to HER, where she wants it. Whenever Sarah gets caught doing something wrong her response is doubling-down, which she just did. She "can't" be wrong, you see, because she is a christian martyr. And the rest of us, Including the families of the dead and Giffords herself who begged Sarah to take down the sniper site? We're equivalent to Roman soldiers pounding nails into Jesus (Sarah) on the cross.

January 13 2011 at 4:53 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
lillyluminatus

Here's what I don't understand: According to Palin, words don't cause violence, but words that suggest that words cause violence DO? Um, what?

January 12 2011 at 7:54 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
northernbent

Also, reading your 'rules'... I would remind you that it was your article that stated that (and I quote)
"I also think the fact that Sarah Palin resides in Alaska is more significant than most people realize. The state's culture and history is quite different from that of the "lower 48." My guess is that she was oblivious to the sensitivities and "political correctness" that many Americans recognize. In some cases, this is refreshing. In other cases, as in this one, it is politically damaging."
This is a demeaning statement to, and about the people of Alaska. I would hope that you would welcome rebuttal.

January 12 2011 at 7:29 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
robinoden

I don't get this writer. It seems to me that he will make excuses for Palin no matter what. How about the fact that as a politician, she should make every effort to be careful with the language that she uses? Everytime she uses inflammatory language this writer finds an excuse. Why not simply tell the truth. The truth is that Ms. Palin simply does not have the sophistication to be a succesful politician and certainly not a presidential candidate.

January 12 2011 at 5:47 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

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