Here we go again. Sarah Palin has ratcheted up the rhetoric. In her words, chastising the media, she proclaimed, "within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."
Not surprisingly, there has been an immediate torrent of almost Pavlovian condemnatory responses. This time with the added element of Jewish outrage at the use of the historically murderous term "blood libel".
As an 8th generation rabbi whose father lived through a pogrom in Poland in the 1930's this may be surprising but I do not believe Sarah Palin consciously used the term "blood libel" in its historical association as a false accusation made by Christians against Jews leading to persecution and murder. She is probably ignorant of its history as many people are of inflammatory expressions that get into our culture's vernacular. (Just Google the term and see the range of people who have used it to make their point...here is one example from a few years back in which a Representative, a Democrat and very decent person, who probably is Jewish, used the term).
Attacking Sarah Palin for using this term misses the point and simply continues the very sort of low level political discourse that has become the norm and that so many of us know is not productive at all.
Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel" may well indicate something far sadder and of greater concern than one more example of incendiary rhetoric. In using this term, Ms. Palin reveals that she sees herself as the victim this week. This is a profoundly distorted experience of reality that any sane person in this country, whatever their politics, should be able to see given that the true victims, the six Americans murdered just a few days ago have not even been buried yet and the fourteen other victims, with lives forever altered, lay wounded recovering in hospitals. The fact that blood libel - even without its full historic associations - came to Sarah Palin's mind to describe her situation which is so drastically different than the situation of the true victims in this story indicates that at some level, unconsciously, she feels guilty about what has happened. But it is so painful; understandably, at an unconscious level for Ms.Palin to feel that she is the victimizer she has disassociated and reflexively lashed out accusing others of what is a deep self-judgment - her language and rhetoric over the past two years is somewhere in her own mind a blood libel.
On the one hand, there is something very troubling about a powerful political leader, a potential president, so disconnected from the reality on the ground to imagine that attacks with words somehow make her a victim at a moment in which there are real victims whose real blood has been shed. But this is also terribly sad, as Sarah Palin is in no way responsible for the shootings in Arizona. The relationship between thoughts, words, and actions - a millennial source of inquiry in fields from religion to science - is far too complex to be reduced to concluding that images of crosshairs and some militarist language caused someone to go on a murderous rampage.
Sarah Palin, along with all of us who have created her as some form of entertainment and deflection from grappling with the partial truths she indeed does express about the fears many of us Americans do have, is simply responsible for the coarsening of our public culture. At a time when we are facing historic challenges that cut to the very core of what America will be in the next period of our history we need to do better.