Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Sarah Palin Goes Martyr and Plays the Blood Libel Card
This has been a very exhausting week. For my dollar, I do not know if there is any better example of the concept of collective consciousness than the spent feelings that reasonable folk are likely experiencing in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
What has really tired me (on an almost existential level) is the utter predictability of the events that have followed The Arizona Massacre. Rather than reasoned self-reflection, thus far this week we have witnessed a Right-wing media offensive. In this reimagining of events, Conservatives are now the "real" victims: they are being punished by a speech code and "McCarthyism," and (where if Rush Limbaugh is to be believed) Barack Obama and the Democrats are actually the masterminds of the political violence in Arizona.
Committed to outdoing themselves, Glenn Beck and Fox News have now embraced Sarah Palin as the victim of a proverbial witch hunt. It would seem that the collective ugliness of contemporary Conservatism and its allies has rarely been so collectively ugly.
In a video on Facebook, Sarah Palin has added her obligatory exclamation mark to the fray. In a slickly produced, teleprompter-glaring video (you can see the reflection in Palin's glasses), she named herself a victim of "blood libel." I am not surprised by this appeal to white victimology and Conservative victimhood. These tactics are staples of the Conservative, Right-wing playbook and have been for decades. And as I have said elsewhere, Sarah Palin is the premier example of white privilege and the ways in which it rewards mediocrity--rarely has someone accomplished so much with so little...and no, I am not going to play the "What if Sarah Palin were black?" game again.
I am immediately struck by two aspects of Palin's speech. Primarily, her video is a strident example of pathological narcissism (frankly, to call Palin a media whore would be too kind). How she can justify her own status as a victim in the aftermath of The Arizona Massacre, where six are dead and many more wounded, is beyond the limits of my imagination. And here I will be transparent: I am unsure if my inability to process her egomania is a failure of my own political vision or is instead a deficit in my understanding the depths of her lusting for attention and power.
Second, Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel" has attracted a good deal of negative attention and condemnation by the pundit classes. Because of the anti-Semitic roots of the phrase, Palin has been criticized for being insensitive, both because Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish) and that the term blood libel is injurious and bigoted against those of said faith.
These condemnations are misplaced. Palin was in fact hinting that she too was martyred and harassed like the Jews of Old--persecuted and killed, driven out of town, home, country, and into a semi-permanent state of Diaspora. What are claims prima facie utterly absurd.
There is however an inside game to Palin's use of the phrase blood libel--and here is where I suggest that the attention should be more rightly focused. For her audience of Right-wing Populists and Christian Evangelicals and Dominionists, Palin's allusion to martyrdom is infused with biblical and eschatological undertones. In a game of projection she/they are persecuted. She/they are victims of a liberal conspiracy. And she/they are God's elect and chosen to lead this country to greatness against Barack Obama, the mainstream media, and the "liberal totalitarian Socialists." Those outside of the club cannot hear the dog whistle politics of the Tea Party GOP and its Christian conservative base. In much the same way that McCain-Palin's wicked Barack Obama as the anti-Christ ad went over (or is that under?) the radar of the secular mainstream, "blood libel" is landing its mark with her base.
Ultimately, this is the danger embodied by Sarah Palin. She has perfected a game of feigned innocence and stupidity. Her "little old innocent me" con job has been politically (and financially) profitable despite its injurious consequences for both the public good and body politic. I used to think Palin a fool, a crony of sorts who did not know she was being played by some greater power(s). Now, in the light of The Arizona Massacre and a long pattern of demagoguery, I see Palin for the true danger she represents: She is the center of a cult of personality, one that embodies a know-nothing, reactionary, New Right, White Conservatives as victims politics that at the nadir of American Empire may become the new normal.
Frighteningly, this brand of political ideology is incapable of peaceful disagreement and reasonable negotiations over matters of public concern.
It is not so much that Palin is the problem. No, it is Palin's blind base of supplicants that take her, Beck, and the reactionary Right-wing mission as a calling. The question then remains: How did America get here? And how the hell do we navigate our way out?