I was at first outraged by Sarah Palin’s call to arms at Gabrielle Giffords and Co when I hear the first reports, but after checking out exactly what Palin called for the rumors were far more vociferous in her instigating Jared Lee Loughner to open fire in Tuscon. The very fact that Sarah Palin speaks in violent enough tones and metaphors that such a connection was plausible, though, is still terrifying to me.
“If people are even debating whether your language is getting people killed, maybe that’s a hint you should tone it down.” As one of my friends put it, “Just maybe.”
I have never been a fan of Sarah Palin as a leader of our country, but I have been an un-fan of Sarah Palin as a decent human being since her “Don’t retreat, reload” philosophy. Not because I honestly think that she was calling for violence, but when questioned about why she would use such violent imagery when Democratic lawmakers were facing threats of violence she was completely ignorant of the power that her words had as a political leader when she responded, “No one is calling for that.”
Sarah Palin clearly doesn’t understand that as a political leader her words have resonance and urge people to action, and we cannot afford to have our political leaders to speak in our behalf with that level of ignorance (or perhaps denial).
Although when she tells an already angry America “Don’t retreat, reload” she may not be literally calling her followers to reload literal guns, but it will push their anger onward, violence forward, and…yes…put the image of a loaded gun in their heads.
Now, again, I am not saying that Sarah Palin is directly or indirectly to blame for the actions of others. Only those people who committed those actions are responsible.
What I am saying is that Palin is ignorant enough or pretends enough ignorance to believe that words of American leaders do not shape the ethos of this country by their choice of words, and therefore they have to be very careful about the words and imagery they choose. Think about the lasting words of past presidents:
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
“Better dead than red.”
…and so on…
I don’t necessarily agree with each of these presidents, nor do I expect to agree with the ideas of any one president, but each of these men measured their words carefully because they knew that such words guide a country…sometimes in large, heroic ways and sometimes in small, subtle ways…but never did these mean spill these words carelessly.
Statements such as “Don’t retreat, reload” and creating illustrations that put her opponents in literal cross-hairs, and countless other violence-laden self-coined idioms and rhetoric (feel free to add your un-favorite below) followed by denying that the meaning of her words ripple carelessly across the surface of this country.
In response to the shootings she makes the statement, “When I tell my followers to arm themselves, I mean with votes!”
If she claimed precise meaning and thought behind the violence in her imagery, that would be one issue…but since she doesn’t imagine if she used this type of metaphor and imagery when meeting with foreign dignitary.
Imagine if she met with Kim Il Sung and offhandedly said, “Look, mister. We don’t like your attitude, and we have you in our cross-hairs.”
Imagine if she goes on television to casually say, “Until hostilities are over, we are clearly targeting Israel.”
Imagine if she makes a “hit list” of Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the People’s Republic of China, and India for having Nuclear weapons.
Such speech, if not tempered and carefully meted out, could have far worse consequences than a a lone gunman unleashing on a Tuscon street, and is simple an irresponsible way for a world leader to carry herself.