WASHINGTON -- The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the political response to it has become a litmus test of sorts for the emerging field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.
Tonally, it has been a balancing act: expressing sympathy for the victims, empathy for the grieving, and indignation for the idea that conservative rhetoric played a contributing role. And it has managed to trip up at least one figure, Sarah Palin, whose seven-minute statement was reduced to a two-word phrase: "blood libel."
On Friday morning, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tried his own hand, praising the president for giving "easily the best speech of his presidency" at the Tucson memorial service, before lashing out at "sleazy opportunists" who blamed it all on ideological opponents.
From his radio program:
First of all, congratulations to President Obama for what was easily the best speech of his presidency. He struck the exact proper tone in noting that while this does give us an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of being civil in our disagreements that it is wrong to assign blame for the personal violent actions of a mad man to other people's political speech.
Whether out of bias or a quest for controversy or maybe just out of habit some members of the chattering classes went chasing blindly after an angle that would stir the most heated responses and they lost sight of the real story and that is the worst possible failure for a journalist. Even now after the president spelled it out for them many are still making the same mistake and missing the point about the president's appearance at the memorial.
It is not about politics, whether it is going to raise his approval ratings or boost his reelection chances, and it certainly isn't about sleazy opportunists who leapt to blame a senseless tragedy on the political speech of whatever side they disagreed with. No, it was about 20 people in Tucson.... I can't believe that some people have to be continually reminded of this but some things really are bigger than politics and this is one of them. And all Americans should be grateful to our president for saying it beautifully.
What separates Huckabee's statement from Palin's is, basically, the timing. Both took umbrage with the press; Palin with a bit more spite. Both took time to offer condolences for the tragedy. But whereas Huckabee waited for Obama to speak before making his formal statement (he had commented on the shootings before), Palin preempted the president's address. In the process, she drew sharp and unflattering contrasts while Huckabee comes off as a touch gracious.