After the President's remarks in Tucson, ideally the public conversation will be elevated to focus more on serious issues after the tragedy last Saturday -- how can we help the mentally ill before they hurt themselves or us? How can we craft gun control laws to keep semi-automatics away from troubled or politically motivated people? How can the public and officials "debate without hate"?
But as of today, there has been one political ramification of note -- Sarah Palin is done as a presidential candidate. After her video disparaging critics as guilty of a "blood libel," she should be shunned and will be shunned. As John Kenneth Galbraith said of Black Monday in 1929, "the end had come but was not yet in sight."
Everyone in public life, given enough time, will misspeak, stumble, say something foolish. But the public and peers will hold it against them only if it betrays a larger unpleasant reality.
So when President Obama said as a candidate that there were "57 states" or once teased the Special Olympics, he quickly corrected himself and apologized for a brain burp. Whatever one's politics, it's hard to deny that he's a person of enormous intelligence who makes few such mistakes. No pattern. No betrayal. No harm.
But when Senator Joe McCarthy tried to smear a young associate of opposing council Joseph Welch in the June, 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings, the folksy Welch said in his now epic retort, "Have you no decency sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?" It was later regarded as the beginning of the end for someone who was a hateful liar.
Then in 1968, Governor George Romney, an honorable man thought as something of a light-weight, committed the gaffe of truth (a nod to Michael Kinsley) when he said that he had been wrong about the Vietnam War because he had been "brainwashed" by the generals during a visit there. That's a permissible and understandable flub for a journalist or pundit but not apparently a president. It may have been unfair but, in the it-ain't-beanbag world of presidential politics, he cashiered himself out of contention.
Now comes Sarah Palin who has lived by the sword. Her weapon is the nasty, snide attack -- on Obama for "paling around with terrorists," on all liberals as un-American, on critics as "limp, impotent [members of] of the old boys club" who lack "cojones."
Her brand was all about being an Annie Oakley to the hard right via all her Tweets and Facebook pages and bird whistle. And a chunk of the Republican base who think Obama's a Martian went for it. Even goofs like "refudiate" or writing on her hand were dismissed as proof of a conspiracy of elitists out to get "a hockey Mom from Wasilla."
Reverse sexism and victimization were working. There were nice cover articles in the New York Times Magazine and Time. But questions were in the air.
Then, eerily and presciently and tragically, Rep. Giffords herself three months ago chided Palin by name for the now famous graphic targeting the Arizona congresswoman for defeat using the crosshairs of a gun. A Palin aide explained that the huntswomen was only using the graphics of a map, but Palin herself had called the images "bullseyes."
Of course legally and morally Sarah Palin is not responsible for the shooting on Saturday. But of course she has contributed to a climate of intolerance that turns opponents into enemies of the state, that indicts all Muslims for the acts of some -- a modern McCarthy is what I called her on this site in the context of the Park51 controversy last August. Given her reality and imagery, she was a literal tail-gunner. Still, as the Atlanta Constitution's Cynthia Tucker urged on Hardball two days ago, she could have yesterday said a version of, I regret that imagery and some of my words and will be more careful in the future. Is there a major public official who hasn't done that?
Instead, we have "blood libel," a reference to the calumny that Jews had used the blood of Christian children to make matzoh during Passover. Could there have been a more offensive comment than using an anti-Semitic image, with the word blood no less, in the context of a Jewish congresswoman fighting to survive and recover from being shot in the head? Even without the religious overtones, a video that made her into the victim using Palin-like violent metaphors was exactly what the occasion didn't call for.
Perhaps she didn't fully know the meaning. Perhaps she was needlessly defensive or was ill-advised. Perhaps the conservative punditocracy will again find some Democratic Tom, Dick or Harry who once used the phrase in order to exonerate her now.
But that dog won't hunt because the context is clear. America will elect people from different parties but what Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all had in common was that they either ran on or in fact were unifying figures who didn't hate others. Palin is the most divisive national political figure of my lifetime. Because she has not shown any of the experience, intellect, character or temperament to be a serious presidential contender -- and because Republican leaders are not politically stupid -- she has now officially been destroyed as a serious candidate not by the "lamestream" media but by herself. She's her own worst enemy.
Jonathan Martin of Politico wrote last week before the shootings and "blood libel" that Sarah Palin "has to decide if she wants to be Ronald Reagan or Rush Limbaugh." She's not going to be either.
Live by the sword...