Sarah Palin is a master of self-immolation.
In the month since the horrific shooting in Tucson, Palin squandered an opportunity to help mend the country's fragile psyche. She could have chosen to rise above the fray and tone down her patented partisan rhetoric. It was a chance for her to acknowledge words matter.
Instead, in her now infamous "blood libel" tirade, Palin exposed herself as a platitude-spewing automaton. For a woman whose battle cry leading up to the mid-term election was "Don't Retreat, Reload," self reflection would have been a more appropriate response than defiance.
If her plummeting poll numbers offer any indication, Palin's post-Tucson rant disgusted all but her most rabid supporters. In the most recent January CBS News/New York Times poll, her favorability rating dropped to 19% from 22% in November, and her unfavorability rating shot up to 57% from 46% in November.
In sharp contrast to Palin, President Obama's poll numbers surged after he helped the country not only mourn the tragedy, but learn from it as well. The president reminded us of the difference between civil discourse and hate speech when he urged in his Tucson memorial, "that we make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."
Rather than acknowledge her error in tone, Palin persisted with her fear-mongering words. Just three weeks after the shooting she gave the keynote address at the Safari Club International's annual gun convention. "Just think if we had even stricter gun control laws," a smirking Palin warned a rapturous crowd. "Imagine making life even more miserable for the liberals who want that gun control."
Imagine indeed, if the mentally unstable Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, didn't have access to a high-capacity 33-round magazine. Is there ever a good reason someone would need 33 bullets in their handgun? This isn't a liberal or conservative question, it's a question of sensibility and reason.
Last summer I attended my congressman, Mike Honda's (D-CA), health care forum. The atmosphere was highly charged and several people were escorted out. Afterward, to reach my car, I had to pass through a gauntlet of provocative signs and people chanting hateful slogans. In the midst of that seething orgy of anger, it was easy to fathom how an already unbalanced person might find validation and communion. I recall thinking the situation was a tinderbox waiting for a match.
Palin should stop playing the role of the match before her words torch her political future.