Palin Joins Debate on Heated Speech With Words That Stir New Controversy
By JEFF ZELENY and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
Published: January 12, 2011
WASHINGTON — Sarah Palin broke her silence on Wednesday and delivered a forceful denunciation of her critics in a video message about the Arizona shootings, accusing commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in a frenzied rush to blame heated political speech for the violence.
Chris Butler/The Idaho Statesman, via Associated Press
As she sought to defend herself and seize control of a debate that has been boiling for days, Ms. Palin awakened a new controversy by invoking a phrase fraught with religious symbolism about the false accusation used by anti-Semites of Jews murdering Christian children. It was unclear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase.
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin 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 that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
The video from Ms. Palin, running nearly eight minutes, was recorded in her home television studio in Alaska and released early Wednesday morning. Her words dominated the political landscape for nearly 12 hours before President Obama arrived in Tucson to speak at a memorial service honoring the six dead and 14 injured in the shootings.
For Ms. Palin, a former Alaska governor, the video provided one of the clearest signs yet that she is carefully tending to her image as she decides whether to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. And it showed her continued determination to do so on her own terms and under her own control, without responding to questions or appearing in a public forum.
She spoke in a somber tone, absent the witticisms often woven into her political speeches, as she sought to contain a debate that had linked her — unfairly, she argued — with the assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona.
In the midterm elections last year, Ms. Palin used a map with cross hairs over several swing Congressional districts, which Ms. Giffords highlighted in a television interview at the time as an example of overheated political speech. In the video statement, Ms. Palin rejected criticism of the map, and sought to cast that criticism as a broader indictment of the basic rights to free speech exercised by people of all political persuasions.
“We know violence isn’t the answer,” Ms. Palin said, sitting against a backdrop of a fireplace and an American flag. “When we take up our arms, we’re talking about our votes.”
The video stirred an emotional response from some Democratic lawmakers, Jewish groups and even some fellow Republicans, who said it was in poor taste for Ms. Palin to deliver her statement on a day that was devoted to remembering victims of last weekend’s shooting. The video played throughout the day on cable television and on the Internet.
Matthew Dowd, a former political adviser to President George W. Bush who has become a frequent critic of Republicans, said that the tone of Ms. Palin’s message was not appropriate for the moment of national grief and that she had missed an opportunity to be seen as a leader.
“Sarah Palin seems trapped in a world that is all about confrontation and bravado,” Mr. Dowd said. “When the country seeks comforting and consensus, she offers conflict and confrontation.”
Advisers to Ms. Palin did not respond to interview requests on Wednesday, and she did not cite any specific examples of what she considered to be unfair coverage or commentary. Ms. Palin offered her deep condolences for victims of the shooting, then went to on dismiss suggestions that political speech should be toned done. She did not mention the shooting suspect, Jared L. Loughner, by name, but said that the violence could not be blamed on talk radio or those who participated in political debate.
“There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged apparently apolitical criminal,” Ms. Palin said. “And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated — back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?”
Ms. Palin also turned to the words of former President Ronald Reagan, saying that society should not be blamed for the acts of an individual. She said she had spent the last several days “praying for guidance,” as she sorted out the lessons of the Arizona tragedy.
“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker,” Ms. Palin said. “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
The video, which seemed to be aimed at appealing to her committed supporters rather than winning over her critics, contained several references to the country’s “foundational freedoms” and the intentions of the nation’s founders. Twice, she called the United States “exceptional,” a frequent dig at Mr. Obama, whom conservatives accuse of not believing in the concept of “American exceptionalism.”
The White House did not comment on Ms. Palin’s statement, and the president did not mention her in his address on Wednesday evening.
“President Obama and I may not agree on everything,” she said, “but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process.”