Home > Ethics, Insights and Commentary, Politics > OP-ED: Palin ‘Blood Libel’ Misses Point of Leadership

OP-ED: Palin ‘Blood Libel’ Misses Point of Leadership

January 12, 2011


A leader does not think of themselves first, but those they lead. A leader’s responsibility is to restore calm and confidence in the light of tragedy and confusion. A leader shows compassion and concern for others. In these things, Sarah Palin has missed the point of what leadership is all about.

I do not talk about personalities per se, but rather ideas. Ideas are what fuel my imagination and make life interesting. Ideas promote innovation, invention, and discovery. No surprise, that I am not a celebrity hound. I find many talented persons interesting however, and make no bones about it. I admire many now passed persons: John Lennon, Paul Newman, Katherine Hepburn, David Lean, Woody Guthrie, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Hitchcock, and many, many other well known successful artists. It is their art and their contribution to the world that I admire, but more importantly, how they lived garners my greatest admiration and respect.

Political ‘celebrities’ however, are a different breed. But, once again, I admire their political and intellectual acumen and their contribution to society. I admire a person who takes an ethical stance, but who is also humble enough to not believe in their own rhetoric. For rhetoric is used primarily to argue a point. In and of itself, it is not a principle, or ideal, or concept. It is a means to win over someone to a particular point of view. We can be passionate in our rhetoric, humble in our presentation, forthright in our choice of words; we can be inflammatory, arrogant, or subtle in our tone. But at the end of the day, however we argue our points, we own what we say, for what we say represents what we believe, what we stand for, and is the nature of our ethics.

I am old school. I do not condone the paparazzi, yellow journalism, rumors, gossip, sensationalism, empty rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric, propaganda, or disinformation. When I read commentary by political leaders I do so with a critical eye. Sometimes I find hypocritical behavior in these same persons and have commented in response accordingly. Ethical behavior is largely a function of a person’s personality. My book on unhealthy narcissism touches on this connection. My forthcoming book on collective cultural narcissism will delve a little deeper. I shy away from attacking people for how they look, what they wear, their personal lives, etc., as it is simply non-productive. I have recently mentioned House Speaker Boehner as regards his comments upon taking office last week. His reference to being humble echoes previous calls for humility in legislating. What we find though is just the opposite of humility. His “hell no, we can’t” rant from last March 2010, is the furthest thing from being humble. The in your face comments to the press are not humble. The angry words about the Obama agenda is not said with humility. But this is indicative of the person who says one thing, and does another. His actions simply do not match his rhetoric.

Now we come to Sarah Palin. I did a piece yesterday explaining the definitions of gun lingo, target, sites, crosshairs, etc. I have owned guns all my adult life. I know how to use them and their actual construction. I sold guns at a sporting goods department at one time. The reason I wrote the piece was I found Palin’s defense of her political web page with crosshairs over targeted states was inconsistent with her original intent. Understandably, it was an attempt to distance herself from accusations that she, like many politicians, use inflammatory language, images, and other tools of their trade to argue their positions and advance their political careers. It would have behooved her to just fess up to the original intent, say it was wrong-headed, and then call for calm and consideration in light of recent events. But instead today we have Sarah Palin making remarks that make me wince. No doubt her remarks will echo throughout the Internet and mass media. They should, for they are truly offensive. They are first and foremost manipulative. The choice of the term, ‘blood libel’ is specific and inflammatory by nature. The fireside setting with the American flag says, ” I am a patriot”….therefore what…. Believe in me, I am believable, I am honorable, Believe what I say?

She states that acts like the shootings in Arizona “begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.” I agree 100% with that statement. But what it implies is an individual is responsible for their actions and I would have to say her actions in terms of the use of her web site with crosshairs targeting Democrats is hers, and hers alone. She owns it. Some people think what we say can always be taken back. Any person who has had an argument with their spouse knows better. Words said in the heat of the moment can have long term consequences. Words said in heated politically charged atmosphere can push people to become violent – I know, I lived through the 60s saw a President assassinated, his brother murdered, and the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King killed. All acts were acts of a lone assassin. What was in their minds, we do not know. But the acts of murder led to rage in the streets of America. Cities burned, riots accompanied the torching…inner city neighborhoods in over 50 cities burned to the ground, as rioters sought to avenge the death of the century’s most powerful black American leader.

The riots utterly devastated Washington’s inner city economy. With the destruction or closing of businesses, thousands of jobs were lost, and insurance rates soared. Made uneasy by the violence, city residents of all races accelerated their departure for suburban areas, depressing property values. Crime in the burned out neighborhoods rose sharply, further discouraging investment.

“Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength,” she says. “It is part of why America is exceptional.” What Palin misses is the uncivil tone of American political discourse. Our public discourse has sunk to new lows where insults, insinuations, rumors, slander, attack ads, personal affronts abound. The crisis that many journalists, bloggers, pundits, politicians, and even the sheriff in Tucson accurately identified is the obvious conclusion from last Saturday’s killing spree…. we are on the edge of more violent behavior, perhaps social upheaval within our society if we keep going down the road of uncivil public discourse. While Mr. Loughner exhibits mental problems and is likely a malignant narcissist who acted alone, we cannot now walk away from the obvious national concern for our citizens and representatives, and our nation’s safety and security.

What I find lacking in Sarah Palin’s comments is this: she defends her past actions with no reference to expressing concern over the nation. She offers no leadership whatsoever. There is no call for calm or reflection. This is a person who is being considered by many to run for President in 2012. Her defense by offense is best expressed here after stating the shootings in Arizona “begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.”

“Not with those who listen to talk radio,” said Ms. Palin, who is also a Fox News contributor. “Not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle. Not with law abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their first amendment rights at campaign rallies. Not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”

This is reprehensible rhetoric. Grouping together political resources and tools of the trade she has employed and benefited from, Palin defends her behavior, her approach, her ethics, or the lack thereof. This is exactly the self-centered behavior we need to examine in our public political arena today for no one is benefiting from this public relations exercise except one person. A leader does not think of themselves first, but those they lead. A leader’s responsibility is to restore calm and confidence in the light of tragedy and confusion. A leader shows compassion and concern for others. In these things, Sarah Palin has missed the point of what leadership is all about.

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