It's not Sarah Palin's fault that some guy went and shot some people in Tucson, any more than it's Taxi Driver's fault that some guy went and shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. For one, there are no accounts whatsoever of Sarah Palin's whereabouts being in the vicinity of the shooting (even though her daughter Bristol did just move into her new Arizona home less than two hours away).
The responsibility of a gunman ultimately lies in their deciding to become what will invariably be described as a "gunman" -- being the one operating a gun. Jared Lee Loughner is widely reported to be the shooter taken into custody, but it was also widely reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead, until it was reported that she was in surgery and then looked likely to survive. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed the attack on the violent rhetoric that has become the voice of accepted right wing discourse:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
A perusal of Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube videos give a convincing first impression of crazy. Having edited graphics, text, and music a lot over the years, just a few seconds of looking at his nonsensical messages in small, off-centered type with weird electronic music convinced me, professionally speaking, that this guy was complete crazy pants. The pathetic burning of an American flag in the woods while wearing trash bags? These little videos are disconcerting and creepy like that haunting VHS tape in The Ring tried to be, but instead ended up looking like a music video by Nine Inch Nails.
It's not like if Fox News were a little less incendiary, this guy wouldn't be having violent fantasies. In what constitutes a massacre, as well as a brazen act of domestic terrorism, there will no doubt be endless review of the killer's background and lead-up to this tragic day of shooting 18 people, killing six, including a 9-year-old girl. All the warning signs are always there in hindsight.
But this isn't Sarah's fault.
As soon as the shooting occurred, the Internet lit up with people pointing out that Sarah Palin had put a gun sight target over Giffords' district as a target, which was controversial at the time for being incendiary. Sarah even kept it up after election day when she Tweeted:
Remember months ago "bullseye" icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin' incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T'aint bad)
But now, to Sarah, all this linking of her gun talk to gun rampages is just the Gotcha Media at it again.
To Sarah, she is as blameless for the guy shooting an elected government official that she happened to target as Paul Schaeder, Martin Scorsese, and Robert DeNiro are not responsible for John Hinckley shooting Ronald Reagan after seeing Taxi Driver. To Sarah, it's all just a manufactured image of violence that everybody tries on and people like it. Even though it was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself who warned after being targeted in Palin's crosshairs:
I mean, this is a situation where -- I mean, people don't -- they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things, for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. When people do that, they've gotta realize there's consequences to that action.
To Sarah, it's easy to stake out that tough talk invoking guns, targets, bulls-eyes, etc., because no one else is using it (probably because they knew it could sound bad). But after bragging of her hunting background, it's been revealed on her own reality show that she does not even know much about guns or how to use them.
She's not in politics for the sake of guns. It's about her. It's about being contrarian to whatever got said by the person she wants to be. If Michele Obama wants to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity, Sarah Palin feigns outrage that Michele is trying to take away your right to dessert. Even the Wall Street Journal dryly surmised last month, "Mrs. Palin would be more effective if she made some distinctions among the Obama policies that really are worth opposing."
And as long as she gets recognition for it, good or bad, there is no distinction to her, just like in her perverted sense of celebrity culture, the logical road to the White House is through Reality TV. If it's about her, she's winning.
But today, for once, I suspect she might not like the attention she's getting. Sure, her words have come back to haunt her before when she took positions just to get a crowd chanting mantras like "Drill, Baby, Drill!" But it took her a week to respond to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the BP/Halliburton/TransOcean disaster, in a Tweet. After the shooting in Tucson, Palin's site quickly scrubbed that picture of targets on congress, and she offered "sincere condolences" in a hasty, detached statement that read like a memo about war casualties. Not so much on her favorite catchphrase today, "Don't retreat -- reload!"
Blaming Sarah Palin for the outbreaks of violence that happen by nuts who even remotely engage in her arbitrary incitements is, to a degree, like pinning violence on Quentin Tarantino because of his sensationalism of violence. Quentin Tarantino may have inspired some derivative movies, (including his own) but despite his unrealistic pornographic obsession, it's unlikely he has ever experienced real violence firsthand, and less likely to be the sole motivator for some other nut to suddenly decide to get violent.
Same with Sarah Palin. Why should there be any consequence to anything she should have to say or do? Since when do any American politicians accept responsibility for anything of their own, or actually face law enforcement? She shouldn't even have to finish her job as governor, because people were attacking her by asking questions about her job as governor, when she could make money talking about herself instead.
When there are negative facts in print about her, as throughout her campaigning on repeated lies and distortions for McCain, she blames the liberal press because they hate her, but not for reasons that should matter like what she says or does, but for other reasons, like because they're jealous, which is what her daughters seem to have learned to accuse their detractors of.
But the reality is, Sarah Palin gets an inordinate amount of media coverage because she outrages more people than she inspires. Networks: they really do not care why you are watching. Blogs? Are you kidding? They count clicks in one way, and anything Palin-related gets clicks. What is lost on the news sources is that part of the backlash against her is because of her ongoing media coverage despite any real news-making. People can't believe that other people take her seriously, and people do, because she's always in the news, which traditionally connotes "relevance," "importance," "stature," "influence," "impact," "a thing that matters."
Our news media blogosphere culture lost sight at some point and accepted a Republican ploy from an elderly presidential ticket as the new reliable royal to love and/or hate. The media has unfurled her catty divisive comments as though they were a pertinent development from a head of state. The media doesn't care, either, they just want your validation by getting out your hatred through their day's work.
We need adults to tell hysterical children to calm down and behave and stop acting like spoiled selfish brats, because you are embarrassing everybody right now. This means the media calling out hate speech for what it is, identifying terrorism for what it is, and not creating a self-sustaining empty spokesperson of blame by reporting on anything Sarah Palin says. If the media limited itself to covering what Sarah Palin does rather than says, it'd be limited to printing press releases about her appearances on reality shows.
Right now, to Sarah Palin, she herself is the victim in this situation. It's not that she wants people to go shoot her political enemies; for one, it looks really bad, obviously. She wants people to be incited enough with vitriol to listen to her and do what she says, but not alienate the mainstream she desperately wants to be accepted by.
When you are projecting victimhood constantly on your followers, however, it is possible that some people are already so alienated, this manufactured force of celebrity media, political vanity, and fear mongering sends these troubled individuals over the edge.
It's not Sarah Palin and her rhetoric that make crazy people do crazy things. It's making her crazy rhetoric matter that does.
Follow John Wellington Ennis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnennis