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‘Blood Libel’ and Beyond



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Lost in all of the squabbling about the use of the term “blood libel” is an under-appreciated fact. Palin’s statement yesterday was actually the most robust, unapologetic defense of vigorous democratic debate and the American system we’ve heard from any politician since Saturday, and that goes for President Obama’s speech as well. I don’t fault Obama by saying this. Obama was speaking at a memorial service (or at least that was his plan).

Palin did exactly what her detractors claimed she both must do and couldn’t do: give a grown up, mature statement. The timing was arguably ill-considered, given that it was bound to be overshadowed by the president’s remarks last night. But such criticism is hard to take from people who demanded that she speak up and then denounced her for doing exactly that. Likewise, the objections that she “injected herself into the story” are hard to take seriously from the same people who insisted she was the cause of the story in the first place.  If she had waited a day and released her statement today, she would have been twice as vilified for re-opening the “wound” Obama the Healer had mended.

Still, the timing invited too many “who is more presidential” comparisons. I think the president was more presidential, in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd.  The woman was being accused of being a willfull co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

As for the “blood libel” flap, I’ve decided to ratchet down my already very modest objection to the term. While I still think it would have been better had she not used the phrase, so much of the criticism of it is in bad faith. Her intent was honorable and her point was right. Moreover, she’s hardly the first person to use the term outside the bounds of discussions of anti-Semitism. She wasn’t even talking about “the blood libel” but warning against the creation of “a blood libel,” which is exactly what Krugman, Olberman & Co. were doing. The “controversy” was a red herring and little more.



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