Friday, January 14, 2011

Words That Heal, Words That Hurt...

Earlier this week, President Obama led thousands of mourners in Arizona—as well as all Americans—in remembering those individuals killed and wounded in the Tucson shooting spree on January 8. Six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, were killed; a number of others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), were wounded. Giffords sustained significant brain injury and faces a long and difficult road to recovery.

While much of the dialogue following the shooting has centered around the vitriol that has come to define our political system, President Obama stayed above the fray during his speech.

"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another," he said. "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to travel the same path as President Obama, yet chose not to. Since the shooting, Palin has been lambasted by many in politics and the media, as Rep. Giffords' district was one of 20 Palin "targeted" (using an image of a gun's crosshairs) to "take out" in the 2010 midterm elections because of her vote on healthcare reform. And Giffords even commented on this to MSNBC.

In the days following the shooting, Palin remained silent, except for posting a message of condolence to Giffords' family and the families of the other victims. But on the same day as the Tucson memorial service, she released a video statement in which she lashed out at her critics for "apportioning blame" for the tragedy.

"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," Palin said. "That is reprehensible."

Like any time Palin makes a statement, her supporters defiantly defend her, and her critics excoriate her. Some have questioned Palin's use of the term "blood libel," used historically to falsely accuse Jews of using children's blood to prepare their Passover matzoh, while others question whether she truly understands the gravity of the situation.

What is understood is simple. If Palin truly views herself as a credible candidate for president in 2012, she failed a simple test of looking "presidential." At a time when she could have served as a uniter, and even tried to beat President Obama at the same game, she instead traveled an already well-worn path: blame the critics, not the actions they are criticizing.

I believe for a nation in need of healing, of compromise, of reassurance, President Obama's words provided the necessary comfort, while Sarah Palin's provided yet another incitement to blame others.

Our nation deserves the former, not the latter, especially at this time.

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