Palin’s “Blood Libel” Fumble

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Count me among those not terribly bothered by Sarah Palin’s initial use of the historically loaded phrase “blood libel” in her video message yesterday. My sense is that in our common vernacular the phrase has become divorced from its original meaning and is merely an especially emphatic way to say “libel.” (I confess that I didn’t make the historical association when I first heard her say it. And I don’t think it’s unusually patronizing to guess that Palin wasn’t aware of its deeper meaning.)

But when it became clear both that Palin had indeed given offense–not just to liberal Jewish advocacy groups but also to some of her sympathizers–and that the reaction was clouding her intended message, she should have been more nimble. Assuming that Palin did not actually mean to invoke an old anti-Semitic trope, even a quick Tweet clarifying and apologizing to anyone who took offense would have been a winning move. Palin would have looked gracious, sensitive and–even if she generally avoids on-the-spot questioning from non-friendly media outlets–responsive to legitimate criticism. Not holed up in her Alaskan homestead pretending she is infallible.

Palin might respond that any admission of fault would lead to a torrent of ridicule and piling-on (an argument that seemed to inform George W. Bush’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge mistakes when he was in office). But Palin could have made a statement just before last night’s memorial service in Tucson, ensuring that it would be swamped by coverage of the president’s speech. She would also have demonstrated a streak of sensitivity and humility more appropriate for a day or mourning than the typically combative message that produced her latest public relations snafu in the first place.