Sarah Palin’s “Taking Responsibility”

I watched Sarah Palin’s video today chastising those who have pointed out that putting crosshairs over a map of the district of a Democratic candidate might result in some deranged individual shooting that Democratic candidate.

This isn’t the first time that someone has been concerned that rhetoric being used by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party might lead to an unstable person committing a violent act. Last March Gifford herself warned that there could be consequences from Palin’s placing crosshairs on a map over Gifford’s district. A year before that, CBS ran an article entitled Could Tea Party Rhetoric Lead to Another Oklahoma City? (April 12, 2010, the fifteenth aniversaty of Timmothy McVeigh Bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City), and warned of the possibility. MSNBC aired a documentary called “The McVeigh Tapes” on the following monday which both looked at McVeigh’s motivation and raised the question that something like that could happen again as the result of violent rhetoric.

There were some photos of Sarah Palin that came up when I typed her name in Google. One shows her in a very patriotic bikini, holding an assault rifle.

CBS took a survey yesterday, found out that the majority of people they polled don’t make a connection between the rhetoric and the Arizona shooting. How could they? To my knowledge the gunman has yet to tell anyone why he did it.

The question the pollsters should have asked is whether or not a well known national politician could incite someone to action by what they say. If Sarah Palin posts a map with crosshairs on candidates she wants to see defeated, or adopts the mantra “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!” or if Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party candidate opposing Gifford, holds political rallies where people are encouraged to shoot fully automatic M16s, or if several other popular Tea Party candidates express to the public that if they can’t repeal “Obamacare” there’s always the “Second Amendment Remedy” or “Second Amendment Solution,” it just might be likely that a far larger number of Americans would see the potential connection.

To say that there is no possible connection belies the idea behind using such rhetoric. If it wasn’t a potent force for modifying people’s behavior, changing their thinking, putting them in fear of one candidate and in favor of another, no one would use it.

In her video Sarah Palin makes sure we know that Jared Loughner is responsible for his own actions. He and he alone, the deranged and evil person that he is, must take full responsibility.

As I listened to her, the single overriding thought that kept coming to my own mind was:

“What about Sarah Palin taking responsibility for her actions?”

The video was well done. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen her speak where she used coherent words and sentences. Her argument was carefully thought out, and appeared well rehearsed. She almost sounded Presidential. Except for the part about blaming the insane for their actions and not being willing to take responsibility for her own.

The Arizona shooting is bad news for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement all around. Two days after the shooting a newer Tea Party candidate was being interviewed, one just now announcing that she will contest a congressional seat in 2012. To listen to that candidate, you would think Sarah Palin’s speech writers had taken their ideas from her. She made it absolutely clear that the rhetoric wasn’t to blame, and that the shooter was insane. But unlike Sarah, she went as far as saying that Loughner should have been locked up in a mental institution to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. She actually used the words “mental institution.”

I happen to agree with that candidate that preventative health care paid for by the governement is a good idea.

Except, given her actual position on health care, it didn’t appear to be a very well thought out response. One of the most significant unifying cries for the Tea Party has been that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. But then, what is a mental institution if not the quintessential government health care system. The patients, most of them without the ability to purchase health care, are mandated to be there, committed against their will. The care is paid for with tax dollars. The treatment is carefully controlled. There are even government laws about what types of treatment are allowed and which ones are not.

The position of at least that Tea Party candidate appears to be, don’t blame us when we tell people to exercise their “Second Amendment Remedies.” And, a single payer health care system is socialism, and evil, unless I can point to it as a necessary remedy to prevent deranged people who might have a tendency to use their “Second Amendment Remedies.”

Immediately after that video, there was one with the Republican ex-Congressman who had held Gifford’s house seat just before her. He’s since retired from politics. What did he have to say? The rhetoric should be toned down. Unlike Sarah Palin and the Tea Party candidates, he made the potential connection between the shooting and the rhetoric. When asked if the US should look at our gun laws, the ex-Congressman pointed out that 11,000 people were killed in Mexico last year with guns, and Mexico has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. Once again this was probably a poor choice of examples. Ninety-nine percent of the guns used to kill those 11,000 people came from the US. Not only can a mentally unstable person walk in to a retail store and purchase a gun and expanded clip here in the US without any problem, we’re arming the drug cartels in Mexico. And for what? To make a profit.

For me, the sheriff of Pima County is still the one in a position to have actually encountered the connection day in and day out at his job. Immediately after the shooting he called for a toning down of the rhetoric. If there has been one credible person in this entire debate, it’s him.

And in support of his observations, I did find it interesting that Anthony Miller, a GOP district chairman, resigned the day Gifford was shot, citing verbal abuse and internet postings by the Tea Party. Anthony is black and said he feared for himself and his family, stating “I don’t want to take a bullet for anyone.”

My own opinion is that we should not be passing laws that prohibit what a political candidate might say. I hold the First Amendment far too dear for that.

But if a candidate or political party uses hate filled rhetoric, and paints pictures of violence through words, such as Sarah Palin’s “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!” or maps with crosshairs, or rallies with everyone firing military assault rifles, or encourages “Second Amendment Remedies” on the internet, then that candidate or political party should take responsibility for the outcome.

I’ve been around long enough to remember violence at the hands of people expressing their “Second Amendment Remedies.” Among them, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

In fact, of the 44 Presidents we’ve had in the United States, assassination attempts have been made with guns on ten either during their campaigns or while they were sitting presidents:

(1) Abraham Lincoln, killed
(2) James Garfield, killed
(3) William McKinley, killed
(4) John F. Kennedy, Killed
(5) Andrew Jackson, uninjured
(6) Harry S. Truman, uninjured
(7) Gerald Ford – two attempts, uninjured
(8) Ronald Reagan, wounded
(9) Theodore Roosevelt, wounded
(10) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, uninjured.

Ideology expressed in terms of violence also took the life of Martin Luther King Jr., murdered and wounded 618 innocent people in Oklahoma City in 1995, and, though not homegrown, murdered three thousand innocent civilians on 9/11.

There is no need for our politicians to stoop to that level, to use hate filled violent rhetoric in our national discourse. Ideas can be adequately expressed without it.

The failing of Sarah Palin and the other Tea Party candidates is that they seem unwilling to take responsibility, admit that they’ve said things that maybe they shouldn’t have, learn from their mistakes, alter their argument, and move on. They seek to place the blame on those so mentally deficient that they are unlikely to be capable of responsible actions, those who because of their mental illness may very well mistake violent rhetoric as permission to carry out acts of violence.

Written by Waine Riches