[This is an unedited, amended version of a piece that appeared in The Observer, guardian.co.uk, Saturday 11 June 2011 22.21 BST.]
Two hours into my dutiful trolling of the 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s finest moments, a subversive thought tiptoed into my mind: “What a complete waste of time.” Maybe there will be a cat-torturing, wolf-slaughtering, Bible-blaspheming, presidential-disqualifying smoking gun buried in this hokum somewhere, but…probably not. The unsurprising revelation of Palin’s gubernatorial correspondence is her banality, her hypocrisy, her provincialism, and her smugness.
Yet here is a woman whom many think has at least a passing chance of ruling the free world. And so I pressed on—fighting back both somnolence and exasperation. Seriously–we shouldn’t need to turn to these records to dismiss Sarah Palin as presidential material. Consider her rendering of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride mustering the colonial army: “He who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” It’s almost beside the point that she’s dead wrong about the facts. I just want to take that so-called sentence, wrap it gently in a soft little shroud and give it a quick and proper burial.
Palin’s emails show a politician who didn’t have time to follow the news (“I will try to carve out time in the day to more fully scan news clippings and try to catch some of the talk shows via internet, but so far I haven’t even found an extra minute to be able to tune into the shows unless I’m . . . driving in my car..”); who relied on others to write her speeches (noticeably freer of the colorful bon mots that litter her emails, like “holy flippin’ crap”) ; who asked God for advice about affairs of state (“God will have to show me what to do on the people’s budget because I don’t yet know the right path … He will show me though.”; who tried to use her political power to have her brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper (“He’s still a trooper, and he still carries a gun, and he still tells anyone who will listen that he will ‘never work for that b*itch’ (me) because he has such anger and distain towards family…”); and who installed a tanning bed in the governor’s mansion.
All intriguing stuff—OK, maybe not—but one wonders whether she isn’t going to come out ahead in the end simply because her correspondence is boring. After all, this is playing against the backdrop of revelations that New York Congressman Andrew Weiner sent hundreds of salacious texts and photos to women who were not his wife. By contrast, Palin’s correspondence seems a paragon of virtue, as she is revealed fussing about her hair, wondering about dinner, and hiding the hootch from the kids. You could almost forget she’s toxic.
Frankly, I had thought she would be whisked off the national stage with her comments in the wake of last year’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that resulted in the death of federal judge John Roll, and the critical wounding of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Four days after that massacre, Palin released an 8-minute videotaped statement on her Facebook page, chiding those who would claim any connection between her campaign rhetoric and the deeds of a madman. In those four days, her reiterated “lock and reload” rhetoric had become the subject of frenzied denouncements on the one hand and passionate encomiums on the other. The core of the debate was Palin’s distribution, during the last election, of a list of 20 candidates at whom true patriots were to take aim and remove from power. Employing what Palin’s defenders viewed as no more than visual gag, the home districts of named candidates were overlaid with cross-hairs. Many of those candidates received hate mail and death threats in the days leading up to the election.
Just after the health care bill was passed, for example, Representative Giffords’ campaign office windows were smashed by vandals. More than once, Giffords had worried aloud about the unspoken violence suggested by Palin’s visual metaphor; she had thought it ominous, risking or inviting calamitous “consequences.” At the end of the day, eighteen of the twenty candidates upon whom Palin set her sights lost their seats in the election. Of the two who managed to survive in office, one was Gabrielle Giffords.
In Sarah Palin’s 8-minute statement, she was polished, rehearsed, right down to the last twitch of her brow and shake of her head. There was a gigantic image of the American flag behind her, frozen in mid-flutter. There was also an odd fixity to her hair, her glazed, flashed half-smiles, her tense teacherly tone. “…The strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy,” she said, although, to me, this great heaviness did not feel like American spirit shining bright. To me it felt more like pure mammalian shock, a slow-motion horror that made us gaze upon our nearest fellow beings in wild beseeching helplessness. But Palin was blinking and shaking her head in little frissons of seeming reprobation: “Journalists and pundits should not manufacture blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport”—the word “purport” was stressed, sarcastic—“to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
A great deal would be written in succeeding days guessing whether Palin fully understood the history of the term “blood libel.” The story of William of Norwich was much retold, as the first clear example of the use of the term. In the year 1144, the Jews of Norwich, England were blamed, in the absence of any evidence, for killing one William, a Christian boy found stabbed to death. William became the object of a cult of sainthood in the years following the unsuccessful Second Crusade, launched in 1145. Anti-semitic fervor grew, and in 1189, the year the Third Crusade was launched, all the Jews in Norwich were executed in a rampage conducted in William’s name. By 1290, every Jew in all of England had been expelled—and not allowed to return until 1655.
Hence, it was an interesting choice of metaphors, Palin positioning herself as the victim of death-dealing, bloodthirsty media rabble-rousers. It was a sly variegation of the plaintive genre that includes reverse racism, reverse sexism, reverse nativism (as in the ballyhoo in the Arizona state legislature about how classes in Latino studies, ostensibly designed to include the histories of more Americans, must be banned as “anti-American”) Moreover, “blood libel” spoke to an exaggerated sense of matrydom among the far Christian right in dangerously mobilizing ways. Palin’s video was not only NOT an appeal to tone things down, it was a way of making any accurately historicized discussion of anti-semitism extremely difficult. Just as the vocabulary of “multiculturalism” has been inverted to mean monoculturalism or balkanization; just as the “post-racial” Obama has been turned into a Nazi; just as the “civil rights establishment” has become the supposed instrument of black supremacy rather than integration; now the “journalists and pundits” were, in her script, rewritten as the authors of anti-Christian, anti-“patriot”, anti-free-speech, and oh-you-betcha “liberal media” “oppression.”
Untouched by any angels of grace and reflection, Sarah Palin closed her 8-minute video in full lock and reload mode: “When we take up our arms,” she finished, “we’re talking about our vote!”
I just have to lean my head in my hands for a minute and catch my breath. Why, why, why, pray tell, do we need 24,000 more pages of this dangerous gobbledy-gook in order to shut the door on her aspiration to high office? That this woman has hoards of not just fans but actual constituents is a terrible a scar on the ideals of the American revolution she so purports to revere.