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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poor, Poor Sarah Palin

Palin scowlsOne thing I've believed for a long time is something I believe is obvious -- you don't get to decide what other people find offensive. If you say something and someone is insulted by it, then the wisest thing to do is explain that you didn't put that very well, apologize, and move on. It's a pretty simple concept. Even in cases where you believe you're right, just drop it and move on. Maybe you didn't mean it the way it was taken, maybe you meant it exactly that way, but are surprised the other person found it so offensive, maybe they're completely misunderstanding what you said -- whatever, doesn't matter. Apologize and move on. If you get bogged down in an argument over whether there's any cause for offense, you're going to lose the thread of your conversation and get stuck arguing about an issue that simply isn't the point. Needless to say, this is less than constructive. If you unintentionally hurt someone's feelings, apologize and let it go, because -- no matter what it was you meant to say -- those hurt feelings are real.

The right has never gotten this. When they say something that's offensive, they often stick to their guns and argue that you have no right to take offense. You see it all the time. What should've been a simple, momentary distraction becomes an issue all its own. And, as all of these tertiary distractions snowball, Republicans suddenly find themselves on the defensive, fighting battles that have absolutely nothing to do with the original point. No wonder conservatives make a deliberate effort to stay on message and all recite exactly the same words -- get them to wing it for a second and everything goes spiraling completely out of control, as they skirmish over idiotic trivia like word-choice. It's like a political version of adult ADD.

The latest example of this is Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel" to explain that she's been the real victim in the Tucson shooting incident. When some took offense at the term, the smart thing to do would have been to say, "Blogger Glenn Reynolds used that term and I thought it sounded nifty! That's what it means? Yikes! I sure didn't mean that!"

But, of course, that's not what she did at all. And that's not what the rest of the right did. Using the term suddenly became all the rage.

Turns out there's a flip-side to this whole "you don't get to decide what other people find offensive" thing. There are people who are going to take offense at everything -- even the fact that they've offended you. Conservatives in general and Sarah Palin in particular have worn a hole in their victim cards, portraying every perceived slight as part of some liberal conspiracy to wipe out conservatism forever.

Alex Pareene, Salon:

All of the old white guys pictured above voted against the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. (John McCain did, in 2008, apologize for his vote.) 28 years later, it's hard to imagine even a deeply Republican Congress opposing a holiday dedicated to Dr. King -- in part because some contemporary conservatives like to pretend the civil rights activist was or would be a Republican, but mostly because conservatives have spent years pretending to be a persecuted minority group.

That's why something like Sarah Palin claiming to be a victim of "blood libel" doesn't raise an eyebrow among the true believers. It's the myth that keeps the checks rolling in for most right-wingers. The liberals are all-powerful and they oppress us.

It's especially rich coming from Palin, obviously. The only thing the former governor seems to enjoy more than attacking her political opponents is acting like the entire world is aligned against her and her poor family. A tasteless joke from a late night comedian isn't simply part of the cost of living a public life, it's more proof that a cabal of liberal elites is devoted to the relentless persecution of innocent conservative Americans. (Part of the game involves purposefully conflating criticism from media figures with organized political attacks. What, after all, is the true difference between David Letterman and the DNC? They're all liberals.)

It pays to point out that this was a fight Palin was winning. Only 35% blame Palin's rhetoric for the shooting -- which, to be fair, is lot. But it's nowhere near the majority. On the other hand only 30% approve of Palin's response to the shooting. By making it all about her, she blew it. And getting bogged down defending her "blood libel" comment only serves to make it even more about her, by opening a second front in the War to Defend Sarah Palin, the real victim in the Tucson gun rampage.

By ignoring the fact that you don't get to decide what other people find offensive, Palin has allowed herself to be distracted by trivia and has opened up a second can of worms. If this is how she plans to behave as president, we should expect a war with Canada over a nasty comment someone might make.

Luckily for pretty much everyone in the world, Palin herself is sabotaging the chances of that ever happening, by virtue of being so easily distracted by her own ego.


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