Joan Vennochi

Palin misses her moment

The ‘all about Sarah’ brand lacks give and take, compassion

(Associated Press)
By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / January 16, 2011

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SOMEWHAT UNFAIRLY, the Tucson shootings put Sarah Palin in the crosshairs.

Then, when she relocked and reloaded, she used all the wrong weapons.

Life and politics are unfair. Given all that is now known about suspect Jared L. Loughner, it is unlikely that Palin’s infamous “crosshairs’’ map contributed in any way to his alleged rampage.

But the shootings, which played out in an environment where heated rhetoric is more polarizing than ever, naturally led to a broad debate about using such symbols in politics. Palin was destined to become a big part of the story, once it was established that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the main focus of Loughner’s attack, was also targeted politically by Palin.

In the aftermath, Palin had a real chance to evolve, to show that she is more than just a cartoon-like character spouting slogans and dumb metaphors. Instead, her response showed a lack of grace, introspection, and candor, along with a basic inability to connect beyond her narrow base of loyalists.

First came dishonesty. A spokeswoman suggested that the crosshairs on the Palin map were surveyors marks. That ridiculous contention was quickly disputed by a Talking Points Memo reader, who posted this old Palin tweet: “Remember months ago “bullseye’’ icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate; T’aint bad)’’

Meanwhile, the “surveyors marks’’ map was removed from Palin’s website, conveying an understandable defensiveness about the true nature of the icon.

Palin next addressed critics by emailing conservative commentator Glenn Beck — as if one line, via one sympathetic media outlet, were enough to address the enormity of the Tucson shootings and the complex debate about mental illness, gun control, and yes, political rhetoric, that spun off of it.

Then, as pressure grew to respond more fully, Palin released a nearly eight minute-long video. Again, her effort to control the message backfired.

In it she used the phrase “blood libel’’ to denounce pundits and journalists. Those words stirred their own controversy, since they are rooted in a charge against Jews who were falsely blamed for killing Christian children.

Also troubling is her defense of a call “to take up arms’’ as nothing more than a call to vote. Does Palin honestly believe that’s how most citizens would interpret that suggestion?

Palin also attributes the Arizona shootings to “a single evil man . . . a deranged gunman.’’ She said she was first puzzled, then concerned, and finally saddened by the idea that “society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.’’ While Loughner is responsible for his own criminal acts, doesn’t Palin see any reason for “society’’ to ponder what family and community might be able to do to identify and stop such lost and crazy souls? Based on her simplistic world view, the answer is no.

Palin is justified in believing that critics on the left exploited the Tucson shootings to swiftly and wrongly pin blame on her. But, as she acknowledges and celebrates, politics is a rough business. To paraphrase Harry Truman, if you can’t take the heat, stay off of the Twitter feed.

Palin’s “all about Sarah’’ approach to every issue is no way to run for president. If that’s what she’s pondering, this episode further reveals the political deficiencies of the woman behind the Facebook page. She sounded shallow and defensive, partly because of her determination to bypass traditional media.

Politics requires human interaction between candidate and citizen, exactly what Giffords was doing when she was gunned down. Like it or not, politicking also requires some give and take with the mainstream media, which Palin views as the enemy. In truth, those much-despised media elites are her enablers, giving her stature and celebrity far beyond her actual political accomplishments. With their help, she carved out a brand as a take-no-prisoners Mama Grizzly. With their help, she earned her millions without once showing any sign of intellectual depth or talent for nuanced analysis.

Here is some tough rhetoric Palin should appreciate: It would be political suicide for Republicans to take a chance on her in 2012. Anyone who didn’t know it before Tucson, surely knows it now.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at