The differences in the speeches given by President Barack Obama, at a memorial service for the six killed by a gunman in Arizona, and Sarah Palin, posted on her website earlier in the week, highlight the gap between those who see a problem with the increasingly hostile political environment and those who don’t.
The president spoke of healing and hope. Palin, who served half a term as governor of Alaska, spoke of blame and “blood libel.”
“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized — at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do — it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds,” the president said in Tucson on Wednesday evening.
For a country eager for help in making sense of the weekend massacre in Arizona, the president’s words set the right tone.
While acknowledging that we don’t yet know what triggered the attack, the president added, “But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.
“Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
Palin has been in the spotlight after Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. During the 2010 campaign, Palin’s website featured a map with gun sights over several Democratic districts including Giffords’. Palin this week said the circles were surveyor marks. She also urged her followers during the campaign “not to retreat, but to reload.”
Palin, a commentator on Fox News, at times had a more conciliatory tone in her speech, which was posted Wednesday morning.
“Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere,” she said.
But she couldn’t resist criticizing the media and pundits and blamed them for manufacturing a “blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.” Blood libel is a term for the centuries-old notion, common in Eastern Europe, that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children to use their blood in their rituals and to make matzo.
Rep. Giffords is Jewish.
Rather than let such nonsense pass as the salve to heal the wounds of Tucson, the president shared details of the lives of each of those killed Saturday, focusing special attention on Christina Taylor Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001. He spoke of her election to the student council and her budding interest in democracy, which prompted her neighbor to take her to meet Rep. Giffords.
President Obama concluded, “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”