Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin Goes Martyr and Plays the Blood Libel Card

This has been a very exhausting week. For my dollar, I do not know if there is any better example of the concept of collective consciousness than the spent feelings that reasonable folk are likely experiencing in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

What has really tired me (on an almost existential level) is the utter predictability of the events that have followed The Arizona Massacre. Rather than reasoned self-reflection, thus far this week we have witnessed a Right-wing media offensive. In this reimagining of events, Conservatives are now the "real" victims: they are being punished by a speech code and "McCarthyism," and (where if Rush Limbaugh is to be believed) Barack Obama and the Democrats are actually the masterminds of the political violence in Arizona.

Committed to outdoing themselves, Glenn Beck and Fox News have now embraced Sarah Palin as the victim of a proverbial witch hunt. It would seem that the collective ugliness of contemporary Conservatism and its allies has rarely been so collectively ugly.

In a video on Facebook, Sarah Palin has added her obligatory exclamation mark to the fray. In a slickly produced, teleprompter-glaring video (you can see the reflection in Palin's glasses), she named herself a victim of "blood libel." I am not surprised by this appeal to white victimology and Conservative victimhood. These tactics are staples of the Conservative, Right-wing playbook and have been for decades. And as I have said elsewhere, Sarah Palin is the premier example of white privilege and the ways in which it rewards mediocrity--rarely has someone accomplished so much with so little...and no, I am not going to play the "What if Sarah Palin were black?" game again.

I am immediately struck by two aspects of Palin's speech. Primarily, her video is a strident example of pathological narcissism (frankly, to call Palin a media whore would be too kind). How she can justify her own status as a victim in the aftermath of The Arizona Massacre, where six are dead and many more wounded, is beyond the limits of my imagination. And here I will be transparent: I am unsure if my inability to process her egomania is a failure of my own political vision or is instead a deficit in my understanding the depths of her lusting for attention and power.

Second, Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel" has attracted a good deal of negative attention and condemnation by the pundit classes. Because of the anti-Semitic roots of the phrase, Palin has been criticized for being insensitive, both because Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish) and that the term blood libel is injurious and bigoted against those of said faith.

These condemnations are misplaced. Palin was in fact hinting that she too was martyred and harassed like the Jews of Old--persecuted and killed, driven out of town, home, country, and into a semi-permanent state of Diaspora. What are claims prima facie utterly absurd.

There is however an inside game to Palin's use of the phrase blood libel--and here is where I suggest that the attention should be more rightly focused. For her audience of Right-wing Populists and Christian Evangelicals and Dominionists, Palin's allusion to martyrdom is infused with biblical and eschatological undertones. In a game of projection she/they are persecuted. She/they are victims of a liberal conspiracy. And she/they are God's elect and chosen to lead this country to greatness against Barack Obama, the mainstream media, and the "liberal totalitarian Socialists." Those outside of the club cannot hear the dog whistle politics of the Tea Party GOP and its Christian conservative base. In much the same way that McCain-Palin's wicked Barack Obama as the anti-Christ ad went over (or is that under?) the radar of the secular mainstream, "blood libel" is landing its mark with her base.

Ultimately, this is the danger embodied by Sarah Palin. She has perfected a game of feigned innocence and stupidity. Her "little old innocent me" con job has been politically (and financially) profitable despite its injurious consequences for both the public good and body politic. I used to think Palin a fool, a crony of sorts who did not know she was being played by some greater power(s). Now, in the light of The Arizona Massacre and a long pattern of demagoguery, I see Palin for the true danger she represents: She is the center of a cult of personality, one that embodies a know-nothing, reactionary, New Right, White Conservatives as victims politics that at the nadir of American Empire may become the new normal.

Frighteningly, this brand of political ideology is incapable of peaceful disagreement and reasonable negotiations over matters of public concern.

It is not so much that Palin is the problem. No, it is Palin's blind base of supplicants that take her, Beck, and the reactionary Right-wing mission as a calling. The question then remains: How did America get here? And how the hell do we navigate our way out?


Henri B. said...

It is not so much that Palin is the problem. No, it is Palin's blind base of supplicants that take her, Beck, and the reactionary Right-wing mission as a calling.

While it seems ridiculous and reactionary I've been saying that I would not be surprised at all if she is elected president. She has a Bush-esque, non-threatening, folksy stupidity that seems to be what the majority looks for in a president. I've heard seemingly reasonable people talk about how "real" she is.

ish said...

Oh you've got that so right about Palin and what she means by using the words blood libel. I read somebody suggesting she doesn't know what she's saying but you're right, she knows full well. She's tacking herself to a cross.

There's something chillingly calculating about this latest video.

chaunceydevega said...

@Tanya--I am getting there slowly. Are we elitists? Or do her followers, or are they, the "real" Americans?

@Ish--Thanks Ish. That woman knows exactly what she is doing. The more the middle of the road corporate media and others oppose her the more she draws strength. Don't get me wrong, she is an idiot, but she is no fool.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I think a lot of your comments are right on, but I think that Palin and her ilk really looked bad yesterday. President Obama's speech showed that he has more seriousness and gravitas in his thumbnail than the whole lot of his opponents put together. I think the events in Arizona will turn off the squishy middle of the political spectrum towards the Right, which smells of extremism these days. They made their bed, riding resentment to a Congressional majority, now they have to sleep in it.

Plane Ideas said...

Palin is the most powerful woman in America this reality is what I will be concerned about as I walk the earth ....

Henri B. said...

I don't think that it's elitist to want your leaders to be smarter and/or better educated than you. Having spent one very expensive year at Georgetown, which technically isn't even ivy league, I can say that the educational reputations at those schools are completely deserved.

I've talked to people who, in so many words, find ivory tower educations intimidating and would rather have a leader who, "I could see myself having a beer with." Well, not me. I'd rather have a leader who I can see, "Reading a book."

Plane Ideas said...

Credentials have a value unk if they have more value than other vehicles of knowledge...

I encourage a totality of knowledge from education to failure to experience to common sense to existence..

What is objective of your accumulation of knowledge, education, credentials etc is always the query for me..

Henri B. said...

Hopefully that didn't come off as an implication that you can only get a good education from an ivy league type school. I currently attend a university that barely qualifies as an educational institution.

I'm referring to people who discriminate against politicians who are educated at prestigious schools and swing the pendulum so far to the - right - that their leaders are barely literate. *cough refudiate cough*

Of course that's not an absolute since a certain popular former president went to Yale.

Plane Ideas said...


I am an age now where I want to explore new vessels of knowledge and truth..

Yeah I can beat down folks withot credentials and ven over inflated ones but for me at end of the day whatever you got if it add values to my orbit andthe world I am all in..I have spent many years in sandlots and learned plenty:-)

Oh Crap said...

These condemnations are misplaced. Palin was in fact hinting that she too was martyred and harassed like the Jews of Old--persecuted and killed, driven out of town, home, country, and into a semi-permanent state of Diaspora. What are claims prima facie utterly absurd.

Well, let's put it in starker terms. Blood libels most notoriously ended in pogroms. Palin is trying to say she is the victim of a pogrom.

Over the weekend, "Sarah Palin" the phenomenon was most definitely a scapegoat for many on the left. I argued forcefully against this reaction, not in any defense of Sarah Palin but because "Sarah Palin" and even her ilk are not the cause for the shooting.

That's an unpopular thing to say right now but I could give a shit about what's popular and trendy. Look at it this way: even if Loughner is found to be fit to stand trial, and even if along with that he's found to be a Palin voter with accounts at Conservatives4Palin and TeamSarah, good luck throwing her in jail for incitement. That's not the way incitement works.

Here's the way it works. Palin is no more "responsible for incitement" than she is a victim of a blood libel or a resulting pogrom. Both conditions are true. Time will tell about Laughner's motives. Palin is an easy target. Question for us is, what do we do with the next Palin, next Beck, next Limbaugh, etc. They are leaving legacies.

Oh Crap said...

As for dogwhistles, "blood libel" isn't really a dogwhistle among "Christian Evangelicals and Dominionists" (Chauncey's phraseology.) Most of them probably never even heard of the term before yesterday.

I think the dogwhistle had a different target audience, among the Jewish community, but it's unclear what part(s) of it. It certainly didn't win her any friends among liberal Jews but liberals of any stripe will never be won over and will usually be offended by Palin.

Another place to check is places like Israpundit and, who, as it might be surmised, are solidly in her corner. Most neoconservatives are, regardless of religion/ethnicity.

She'll also dogwhistle to antisemites with baloney about the evils of "Hollywood", a familiar antisemitic trope. Then she'll call the press "racist" because of Helen Thomas. Imo, Palin is the type of person who tries to appeal to all (or as many as possible) but in the end will appeal to none.