A reminder: Sarah Palin and the Gabrielle Gifford assassination attempt
by John Slade
In March of 2010, the Sarah Palin political action committee ran several ads using this basic image – a map of the USA, with a number of targeting crosshairs, as you might see through a rifle scope, scattered across the map. The crosshairs were targeting 20 Democrats, who had voted for the health care act, who came from conservative districts. If you can’t see it on the picture, the header lets us know that Sarah PAC has “diagnosed the problem…” and asks the viewer to “prescribe the solution.”
Now, Sarah; if you and the far-right in this country keep on insisting that you’re not Nazis. I have to say, using weapon targeting imagery and asking for people to prescribe “solutions” is a bad idea. Because someone might get it in their head to prescribe a “final solution.” This is just what Jared Loughner did when he grabbed a handgun with an extra-size magazine (that the gun lobby had pushed for) and shot a whole lot of bullets at one of the people on that map.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords was one of 20 people that Mr. Loughner shot. 6 of them he killed. 14 of them he wounded, including Ms. Giffords. She survived the assassination attempt despite being shot through her head, and just recently has had photographs released. She has serious cognitive impairment due to the bullet through the brain, and her personal story of courage has filled the news for months.
What’s missing is the context; this was not a murder attempt, it was an assassination attempt. The reason we have a separate word for killing political figures for political reasons is because it’s a different kind of crime. There is political intent. In this case, it’s likely that the political intent was to punish Democratic Congresspeople for their vote on the health care bill.
Further, the violent and hate-filled political imagery that had been (and still is in many ways) saturating the far-right movement is a part of the context. “Second amendment remedys” and automatic weapons in campaign ads are used to promote an image of strength through violence. This is coupled with a well-detailed hate system. You can hear constant diatribes against “illegals”, feminists, liberals, terrorists, “socialists”, and as you get further right, people of color, Jews, and a recent favorite hate-object from the white-supremacist extremes to the Southern Baptist center – homosexuals. At the core of this hate system is a series of “greater than” statements, which tell you who you is important and who is not. White people are greater than people of color. Men are greater than women. Straights are greater than gays. People with money are greater than people without. You hate the bad people and revere the greater than people.
Congresswoman Giffords is on the “lesser than” end of a number of those criteria. She is a woman, pro-choice, liberal, Jewish. She transgressed the moral boundary of voting for the “socialist Obamacare.” By the above system, she is a legitimate target for hate.
As Gifford’s photos make the circuit, the Sarah Palin part is being left out of the story. The Associated Press (NEVER expect an AP story to be free of bias) doesn’t mention it in their recent story (as seen in the Star Tribune) nor does the oftentimes-better Guardian UK. But back when it happened, there was quite a bit of coverage. At the Guardian, both coverage and commentary brought up the Palin connection. The commentary is from Jonathan Freedlund, and he asks, rhetorically, “Sarah Palin’s ‘s presidential hopes surely can’t survive this assassin’s bullet.”
Well, Jonathan, when Gaby Giffords becomes a decontexualized heroine and Sarah Palin no longer gets asked about her, perhaps Sarah’s hopes can survive. This is what happens when your mass media are controlled by the far right and the corporate right, when your ‘party of the left’ is largely captive to that selfsame corporate right.
Also important was the pushback the right and the far right engaged in when people starting bringing up that crosshairs photo. Sarah Palin claimed that SHE was the biggest victim here, and as Amanda Marcotte said (also in the Guardian)
Despite the facts on the ground, the right was able to quell discussion about the role that their paranoia and violent rhetoric likely played in this event, particularly with regard to the political figure whom, among others, Loughner chose to shoot. Sarah Palin started shouting “blood libel”, and it was all so unpleasant that many in the mainstream media decided it was better to let important questions lie than to provoke her into worse assaults on decency and good taste.
So now it’s our task to remember the past, to bring up the uncomfortable truths, to remind each other of how things happened the way they did. We have to remember, so these crimes will not happen again. And when anyone asks you to take the Presidential ambitions of Sarah Palin seriously, remind them of this story.