JANUARY 10, 2011 12:56PM

Chain of causation goes way beyond Palin

Rate: 9 Flag

Much has already been said about Sarah Palin's crosshairs, about how Palin's violent rhetoric ("Don't retreat, reload," she told her supporters last year) seems to encourage violence such as the outburst in Tucson last weekend.  Among some liberals, a popular interpretation is to see Palin as a cause, even if indirect, of the Tucson shooting.

The "blame-Palin" view, however, is speculative at best, andcrosshairs it also fails to recognize a more accurate reality with regard to Palin's role.  That is, Palin's rhetoric and crosshairs were not so much a cause of the shooting, but a symptom of the real cause.

Beyond the shooter's possible mental illness, the real cause of the Tucson violence would seem to be the fear, ignorance, and anger that have become commonplace in the American public dialogue.  Palin cannot accurately be described as the cause of these phenomena, but certainly her popularity and celebrity are to some degree a result of them.

Surely, it is most unlikely that a public figure such as Palin - not particularly well educated, not well traveled, having connections to extremely conservative religious groups with apocalyptic messages, reading notes scribbled on her hand during an interview, uninformed about international issues, pandering to ultra-patriotism and anti-government groups, etc. - would be taken seriously as a candidate for high office in most developed countries.  Yet in America she has already been a vice presidential candidate and is mentioned as a serious contender for the highest office in the land.

How can this be?  We can try to answer that question, but before doing so we should realize at the outset that Palin's celebrity is a symptom, not a cause, of the underlying problem. 

Palin, the anti-intellectual, moose-hunting, God-fearing, liberal-targeting hockey mom, can be seen as viable in a culture that exalts image over substance, in an environment where few voters actually read, where information comes from ultra-right talk radio and cable television (and 15-second political ads during campaign season). In an economic atmosphere of insecurity, with growing divisions between rich and poor, a celebrity figure such as Palin can go far via conservative populism, portraying government as the problem, fanning "us-against-them" thinking both domestically and internationally.  Don't blame Palin for riding the wave, but instead blame the larger culture that makes her viable.

If Palin's message resonates, it's because anxiety is high and the public is fearful, feeling that the system is out of control.  The public in many ways is indeed helpless - poorly informed and unable to take back the country from the corporate interests that actually control it. 

If we want a more rational public discourse, the real solution is not to scold Sarah Palin for her poor judgment in using crosshairs.   The challenge is much bigger than that.  We need to address the fear, anxiety, and anger that are so prevalent, now so deeply rooted in the culture.  This can only be done through a citizenry that is better educated, better informed, and more empowered.

In a society that expects instant gratification, that exalts material wealth and ridicules intellectualism, that is susceptible to patriotic rhetoric and appeals to God and American exceptionalism, that is disinclined to complexity and fact-based analysis, this might be asking too much.


Author tags:

tucson shooting, politics

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
And what that means is, that each one of us has the individual responsibility to publicly state to people's faces that their behavior is unacceptable when they espouse hate speech of any variety. And of course, don't forget to lobby your elected officials for stricter gun control, more and better mental health services, etc.
Better education is key.
Early education to be precise.
A liberal education to be nit picky.
...and a secular one to be brutally honest.
and in that "better, early education" would be better special education to address mental health...
Palin's comments are the canned glib mindless remarks one would expect from a beauty queen who is more interested in winning the crown than giving a proper response. As a result she put herself in the position of being the central figure after the Arizona tragedy. She wanted the spotlight and now she has it all to herself.
bring back The Enlightenment:Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do.

Elijah Rising

Stop the Advance of the 451s
A symptom tends to be the result of an illness one has no control over. In this case, it's probably more appropriate to identify Palin as a perpetuator rather than the sole perpetrator.
It is ironic that the author uses denigrating language to describe Ms. Palin while condemning the "fear, ignorance and anger that have become commonplace in American public dialougue". This piece is emblematic of exactly the problem with public dialogue - hyperbolic name calling for anyone who doesn't agree with your position.
The corporate media has also been complicit in creating the atmosphere by giving up its 4th estate advocacy for the public.

Never once did any talking head call out the people spouting the violent rhetoric.
To what are you referring to as hyperbolic name calling??? What was said is that she is anti-intellectual, moose hunting, God fearing, liberal targeting, and a hockey mom. Which one of those things is not true, but is an example of name calling? It seems that the words used are very descriptive. I do not see any name calling in that description. Give me evidence to the contrary.
Much of what she has talked about in her speeches indicates that the words the author used in this piece and which I have reiterated is accurate. She can't name any books or magazines that she reads; she can't say where she gets ger ideas. Most of what she says comes from the FOX noise machine and right wing radio which is based on nothing but Republican Luntz talking points. She may have been the first to use "death panels" in the healthcare debate and there is nothing about death panels in end of life discussions by the terminally ill and elderly with doctors, and nothing about government involvement in end of life discussions. She deals in just rhetorical comments derogating Obama and the Democrats using mostly misinformation. If you think that she just has a different position on the issues, then I don't know what to say. She takes the right wing position on the issues right or wrong, which, truth be told, is usually wrong. Prodded by right wing radio and FOX news(which seems to be the only media outlet she will go on)she calls the ones who know more than she knows, elites, in order to dismiss them and their knowledge. Her "position" is based on bumper sticker philosophy and the low hanging fruit of no real ideas and can easily be refuted(not refudiate, because there is no such word)
Now after all that, I think she is an asshole, now that is name calling.
Excellent post. The blustering responses brings to mind the quote, "Methinks she doth protest too much."
It is the result of "the dumbing down of the the population.
I like the article and have forwarded it, however the conclusion that we must have a better informed and more educated citizenry is asking the nearly impossible. Open minded people CAB change, but religious zealots who believe that their opinions and actions are ordained by God is a totally different animal. There may be no humane way to deal with this. Perhaps Mother Nature will step in?