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Dr. Warren Throckmorton Christian Blog and Commentary

Blood libel? Death panels? Sarah Palin and words

  • Warren Throckmorton, PhD
    Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at ewthrockmorton@gcc.edu.
  • 2011 Jan 12
  • Comments

Sarah Palin issued a statement which responds to critics who assigned various degrees of responsibility to her for the shootings in Arizona. Here is her video:

The full statement is here. I want to focus on these words (in italics):

If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But, especially 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.

When I first heard her describe the accusations against her as a "blood libel," I cringed because the term historically relates to a horrendous anti-Semitic accusation that Jews kill Christian children for their blood. Not surprising to me, a controversy has arisen over her use of the term. Just a bit ago, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement condemning the use of the phrase (in italics).

It is unfortunate that the tragedy in Tucson continues to stimulate a political blame game.  Rather than step back and reflect on the lessons to be learned from this tragedy, both parties have reverted to political partisanship and finger-pointing at a time when the American people are looking for leadership, not more vitriol.  In response to this tragedy we need to rise above partisanship, incivility, heated rhetoric, and the business-as-usual approaches that are corroding our political system and tainting the atmosphere in Washington and across the country.

It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder.  Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks, and we agree with her that the best tradition in America is one of finding common ground despite our differences.

Still, we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase "blood-libel" in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others. While the term "blood-libel" has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.

I agree with the ADL on this matter. Rep. Giffords is Jewish and it is insensitive at best for evangelical Palin to use a term which is offensive to Jews in this situation. Not only is it insensitive, the use of the term obscures the expressions of sympathy and the accurate aspects of her analysis. 

Another consequence is that the judgment by which she judges will now be used to judge her rhetoric. For instance, Sarah Palin and the far right have invoked the term "death panels" as a way of accusing supporters of the health care bill of favoring the deaths of older people in order to cut costs. This would be a kind of blood libel, wouldn't it? Accusing someone of creating a means to bring death to old people via legislation is a serious allegation and one that is simply false. In light of the currently toxic public square, evangelicals and social conservatives should just speak in plain and descriptive language rather than invent defamatory terms to describe ideological opponents.