Palin talks “accountability,” doesn't take any

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Sarah Palin is a Daisy Buchanan for our time -- a careless person, indeed, who tosses around words or images with nary a thought as to their effect, before she retreats back into her money or vast carelessness or whatever. Her ill-timed and ill-conceived statement of resentment and self-pity -- on a day of national mourning for the victims of the massacre in Tucson, has accomplished its mission of calling attention to herself, particularly with her appallingly careless (how else to describe it?) use of the phrase “blood libel” to describe critics who have stated that her use of gun imagery and violence-tinged rhetoric had something to do with Jared Lee Loughner's insane actions.

The phrase “blood libel” has a long history and context in society's struggle against anti-Semitism which makes it a stunningly inappropriate use of language -- in addition to the loaded history, it is such a divisive term that elevates her alleged persecution in the media to the level of the murder of six people, including a 9-year-old girl, and that is simply unfathomable.

But I think there's something else. The perhaps predictable brouhaha over “blood libel” obscures the much broader -- and to my mind much more serious -- flaws in Palin's seven-minute speech, read from a Teleprompter, her first appearance since the tragedy in Tucson. The ex-half-term Alaska governor's talk touched greatly on the main conservative talking point since the events of 1/8/11, that the killings weren't about society or our national rhetoric but merely about the one unhinged person who did it.

In other words....personal responsibility.

Here is a key passage of Palin's talk:

President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

Let's take a step back and remember the context here -- exactly why America was even interested in hearing from Sarah Palin at all this week. It was Palin's political committee that last March released a map of the districts that it was targeting -- including that of Tucson shooting victim Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- by using the image of rifle crosshairs. (her comment about “both sides of the aisle”apparently refers to a 2004 mailer by the DLC.) What's more, Palin has long relished in violent imagery, whether it's the multiple images of her wielding a gun (such as at top of this blog post, from her “reality” show) or her comment made on more than one occasion that conservatives -- in the face of their political losses in the late 2000s -- need not to “retreat, instead reload.”

Ironically, Palin could have retaken the high ground this morning. For one thing, there's no evidence that the gunman Loughner even knew who Sarah Palin was, let alone had any awareness of the crosshairs map that featured Giffords (whom he'd been paying attention to since 2007, or before Palin became a national figure) or the other extreme statements that Palin has made. It is certainly right for Palin and her supporters (and her detractors, like me) to point that out.

That said, many public figures on the right and the left have taken the Tucson shooting as a time to reflect on their own words and actions, regardless of what can or cannot be learned about how public discourse influenced Loughner. A high-profile example of that has been a liberal commentator, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who reflected on his own contributions to the national dialogue on the night of the shootings and scrapped his feature called "the Worst Persons in the World." This was a golden opportunity for Sarah Palin to state something along the lines of, “Ya know, I had nothing to do with what happened in Tucson, but I've nonetheless taken some time to reflect on the words and images I use. I hate violence. I hate war (those last two sentences are what she purportedly said to Glenn Beck in an email) and so when I fight for my bedrock conservative values -- as I will -- I'm going to be extra careful that I don't glorify violence or war. And to the extent that I have in the past, I am truly sorry.”

In other words, to stop being so careless.

To, in the words of Ronald Reagan, “restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

To take personal responsibility for her past words.

But Sarah Palin didn't do that. Instead, she doubled down on the victim card today, using unnecessarily inflammatory language to do so, and she dishonored not only herself but the real victims of the tragedy in Tucson and her fellow citizens who are trying today to mourn and process that loss. The only solace is that I believe more people are starting to realize what should have been apparent from Day One, that Sarah Palin is a careless person who continues to smash up things and creatures.