Sarah Palin responded publicly to the accusations that she contributed to an atmosphere of violence with an e-mail to Glenn Beck, which he read aloud on his radio/video show this morning. The Right Scoop captures the moment and the following discussion, while Politico gives its own account. Click on the image to watch:
I hate violence. I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.
What we will have is a seriously restricted environment for political speech. Already we have at least one member of Congress proposing to outlaw the use of crosshair symbols in political advertisements, a bill that should run afoul of the new House rule to cite constitutional authority for any new legislation. It also would create the ironic situation where the government could create a prior restraint on political speech by banning the use of crosshairs or bullseyes when the plain meaning isn’t violence, but where their use on actual shooting targets would still be allowed. What’s next, the banning of dart boards?
Jack Shafer at Slate responds to those who want to exploit this tragedy to punish Americans for political speech:
The call by Sheriff Dupnik and others to take our political conversation down a few notches might make sense if anybody had been calling for the assassination in the first place, which they hadn’t. And if they had, there are effective laws to prosecute those who move language outside of the metaphorical. I can’t be overly critical of the sheriff. After all, he’s the one who has spent his career witnessing how threats can turn into violence: gang wars, contract killings, neighborhood rows, domestic disputes, bar arguments, and all the rest.
The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday’s slaughter, I’d wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics.
Any call to cool “inflammatory” speech is a call to police all speech, and I can’t think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power. As Jonathan Rauch wrote brilliantly in Harper’s in 1995, “The vocabulary of hate is potentially as rich as your dictionary, and all you do by banning language used by cretins is to let them decide what the rest of us may say.” Rauch added, “Trap the racists and anti-Semites, and you lay a trap for me too. Hunt for them with eradication in your mind, and you have brought dissent itself within your sights.”
There are a great many people who want to set the boundaries for acceptable political discourse at the edges of their own ideology in order to silence those who oppose their agenda. We’ve spent the last thirty years seeing this creep across Academia in the form of campus speech codes, even at publicly-funded universities and colleges, with the result being autocratic and arbitrary rule of these campuses by those with very large axes to grind.
We don’t need more restrictions on free speech and political debate. What we do need, as this episode has amply demonstrated, is a political class that values liberty and acts honorably rather than hysterically in some cases, and cynically exploitative in others.
Update: Der Spiegel warns America from jumping to conclusions and blaming politics, and especially about blaming Palin:
The language used by Palin and a few Tea Party supporters is doubtlessly raw and inappropriate, but there is in no way any proof whatsoever that they inspired the crime committed this weekend in Arizona. What little is known about the perpetrator does not suggest that he was a supporter of the Tea Party or an admirer of Palin’s — he doesn’t even appear to have any clear political convictions. His favorite books include the “Communist Manifesto,” Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and “Peter Pan,” an erratic hodge podge. So far, there is no evidence that there were any political motives behind the crime.
Indeed, the massive criticism of Sarah Palin is misguided. This is not only due to the fact that the accusation is baseless, but also because the calculated attempt to weaken Palin in this manner could ultimately backfire.
The reasoning is quite simple: Palin has always profited in the role of victim — a victim of the liberal elite. Time and again, she has been made fun of — when, for example, she spoke for the first time about foreign policy during the 2008 presidential campaign, and later when she wrote notes on her hand during speeches and television appearances. But every time people made fun of the Alaska politician or attacked her as being superficial and unqualified, it merely helped deepen the support of her followers. Now, the allegation that she carries partial responsibility for what has happened in Arizona could turn out to do more to help than harm her.
Yet again, she could emerge as a political martyr.