Palin and the Elusive 'Mot Juste'

By Gal Beckerman

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When do we stop being surprised by Sarah Palin and the strange things that emerge from her mouth?

The latest is her invocation of the words “blood libel” in the course of a videotaped speech denouncing both the shooting of 20 people in Tucson, Arizona and the blame she has taken for contributing to violent political rhetoric that may encourage such violence.

It’s still a mystery why she would so blithely use a phrase that refers, historically, to the accusation that Jews were murdering Christian children so they could use their blood in making matzo. Was she equating herself with persecuted Jews? Just trying to keep the rhetorical fires burning? Or did she simply not know what she was saying?

Bloggers immediately went to work parsing out her meaning, trying to point out the inconsistencies with her earlier positions. How could she say, for example, that she believes crimes “begin and end with the criminals who commit them” and square that with the guilt-by-association inherent in her opposition to the mosque near Ground Zero or her refrain during the 2008 election that then-candidate Obama was suspect because he was “palling around with terrorists”?

On his blog, Ezra Klein even daydreamed about comments that an imaginary Palin could have produced: “My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to an unhealthy political climate, I have to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than merely sharpen my defenses.”

This would have made her seem big and her critics small, Klein said. But this is not what she said. She said what Sarah Palin would have said, because she is…Sarah Palin.

This is the person who last November talked about “standing with our North Korean allies.” Or how about her Twitter message of August 18, 2010: “Who hijacked term: ‘feminist’? A cackle of rads who want 2 crucify other women w/whom they disagree on a singular issue; it’s ironic (& passé)”

Or who can forget her invention of the word “refudiate”?

We don’t point this out in order to ridicule – or only partly so – but to make the point that “blood libel” is not some anomalous moment in her career as a public figure.

And it would be good for a few laughs if not for the fact that Sarah Palin is a political figure with clear presidential ambitions (why else that fluttering flag in her video?). So maybe we should stop being surprised at her inability to lead and just accept that maybe, at the end of the day and particularly at moments like the present that call for a strong leader, she just isn’t one.

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