Really, Palin?!?!?!?

Take a moment to read the following article:

Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’

Now, ask yourself:  where to start?

I will begin with an open letter to one Sarah Palin:

Dear Ms. Palin,

I can only imagine how disconcerting it may be to hear critics connect a truly awful act like the shooting in Tucson to a political publication, however ill-chosen, for which you were responsible. I will back you on encouraging people to not draw a direct line of causation between the two.

That is where my support of you ends.  You see, your statement is both wrong sociologically and offensive on religious grounds.  Well done.

As for your sociological mistakes: Did you catch the qualifier I mentioned about the causation?  DIRECT.  Given all of the evidence surfacing about Mr. Loughner, we cannot say that he saw the map and said, “Well, there ya go, there’s my next target.” That would be a direct line of causation.

What you don’t seem to realize is that Reagan was wrong. Once you’ve gotten over being taken aback at such a blasphemous statement read on and I’ll explain. “Society” as you use the term does not hold full culpability for individual’s actions, but we are in a continual process of shaping and being shaped by society. (See Berger and Luckmann) The metaphors we use, such as “target” to refer to our political opponents, shape the way we think. (See Lakoff and Johnson)

You cannot wash your hands of the role you’ve played in framing the way we think about those with different political viewpoints. You as much as anyone are indeed culpable for helping create a society where it is acceptable to think in violent metaphors. A little nuanced, critical thinking is all it would take to see that a more appropriate response than trying to make it loud and clear that you didn’t send the gunman would be to say, “It’s unfortunate that this happened and in response I am going to reconsider the metaphors I use so that I might help shape a less violent political culture.”

While I’m on religious symbolism.  “Blood Libel”?!?!?!?!?  Really?!?!?!? If you chose this term because you were ignorant of the history and connotations associated with it please, please, please make an effort to learn about anti-Semitism in our world. If you knew and still chose it–I’m dumbfounded.  Not only is the link between the critics statement and blood libel inaccurate and inappropriate it is outright offensive and insensitive.  Blood libel has historically resulted in vast suffering and persecution of religious minorities.

Being called out on your choice of metaphor is in NO WAY the same as claiming Jewish people use the blood of Christian children in their rituals.  While you may be experiencing a bit of distress from the news pundit’s comments, to link your suffering to such atrocities as the Holocaust through your choice of this particular metaphor is what is reprehensible.

The words we use have power. I call on you to rescind your statement and issue an apology. Then, I encourage you to educate yourself on basic social theory and religious traditions.


Melissa James, Ph.D. (Cand.)

Diaconal Minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America


7 responses to “Really, Palin?!?!?!?

  • Doug

    Well said.

    But I fear no apology will be forthcoming.


  • Cecilia

    Well said Melissa, and congratulations GTU students on launching this forum.

  • Lorena

    Liberal left believe that the direct causation to Jared Loughner was talk radio and the right. Jared is clearly a leftist, marijuana smoking looney tune.

    The letter from Ms. James started wrong from the get go. Firstly, Sarah Palin is …married therefore the opening salutation to the letter should have been “Dear Mrs. Palin”. Which political publications was Mrs. Palin guilty of publishing (Ms. James did not say specifically in her letter). Our Constitution and our legal system is built on individual culpability. That is why the laws that are written are directed to individuals and not to groups of people. Hunting and military metaphors have been used by politicians through out history and especially in American history. The only different is that this metaphor was said by a woman. Her use of “Blood Libel”in the context in which she used it is completely correct as also said by Rabbi Boteach (

    Melissa James, Phd. comments are both ill founded, unspecified and just complete wrong.

    • melmjames

      Dear Lorena,
      Thank you for your very heartfelt and passionate response. To address some of your concerns:
      On Ms. Vs. Mrs. Technically, either of these honorifics can be used to refer to a woman who is married and Ms. has been in use for about 40 years. My use of Ms. was intentional and done as a means of affording her the respect I with which I would hope to be treated.

      At no point did I argue against individual culpability. My point was not that Mr. Loughner ought not be held accountable for his actions. And, in fact, I conceded that Ms. Palin was not directly responsible for his actions nor should any of her publications be seen as the cause of this particular act of violence. Please note, I did NOT ask Ms. Palin to stand up and take responsibility for Tucson. I asked her to take responsibility for her reaction to it and for her lack of awareness of the potential impact of her use of language—both pre and post shooting.

      My point was that there is a dialectic relationship between language and culture. The language we use is both shaped by and in returns shapes our culture. Utilizing violent metaphors, which you correctly identify as having a long history in political speech, helps shape the way we think about political opponents and those who have different opinions than us. This is not ill founded as you suggest. Cultural theorists (e.g. Ann Swidler), Cognitive Linguists (e.g. George Lakoff), and sociologists (e.g. Peter Berger) have provided excellent studies on the way culture is formed and how that in turn shapes how we live and act.

      As for your claim that deciding factor was that Ms. Palin is a woman—that is an interesting thesis. It is an entirely different conversation than this one, albeit interesting and one which I may look into further now that you’ve brought it up, to critically examine the role of gender in Sarah Palin’s career and critiques. That said, I would not agree that it is the ONLY factor. It is not that any woman tapped into violent metaphors, it is that THIS PARTICULAR woman used them given the role of influence she holds.

      You are right to catch that I did not specify to which of Ms. Palin’s publications I was referring. For the record, I was referring to the “It’s Time to Take a Stand” 2010 publication which used the graphic of crosshairs and for which she was receiving direct criticism after the Tucson shooting.

      As for the particular use of Blood Libel. It is true that there is a colloquial use of the term which refers to slandering a political opponent and in that context her use of the term is accurate. My critique wasn’t the accuracy of her usage nor her intention of its meaning. My critique was that she is a well-known, national figure who chose a term with a long and painful history attached to it seemingly without any notion of the religious and cultural implications it could have to alienate people against whom it had been used in the past. She had her pick of terms or phrases to express her sentiment.

      Finally, we don’t actually know if Mr. Loughner was a leftist, a right-winger, a-political, etc. Even if we buy into a dichotomous political landscape, neither side wants to claim him for their own and are plenty happy labeling him as a member of the “other” side.

    • melmjames

      Thanks, DET.

      The argument put forth in that statement is an excellent summary of those used to defend the use of the phrase “blood libel.”

      Ms. Palin certainly did use the phrase “correctly” as the colloquial use is intended. I won’t argue against that. What I will argue against, however, is the notion that because something has become common use it is devoid of any of the past connotations.

      I don’t believe Ms. Palin was being overtly anti-Semitic. Which is not to say I don’t think her comment was anti-Semitic. I think an interesting discussion could stem from thinking of her comment in the terms of microaggressions. Usually used to describe subtle, often “under the radar” acts of racism toward Black and African American people, the concept of microaggression points out the small ways we express prejudice in speech and action.

      For more information, here is a link to a Star Tribune article about microagressions:

  • Chris

    I agree that Palin should have been more cautious with her language, but then again, so should everyone. I find it rather rich for people to complain about the angry political discourse when those very same people for years called President Bush every name in the book; war criminal, murderer, terrorist. His death was called for openly in the streets of this very city and no one batted an eye. The DNC recently put bullseyes on congressional seats up for grabs, Obama talks about bringing “knives to a gun fight” and the list goes on and on. So the point is this: EVERYONE needs to be careful about rhetoric and both sides of the aisle need to tone it down. But it is nothing short of hypocrisy to single out Palin (she is everyone’s favorite punching bag now) and not point out how irresponsible language was used, and continues to be used, by many on the left as well as the right.
    Chris (Phd Cand) 1st year

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