Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Sad Defense of Sarah Palin’s Botched History

-E.D. Kain

Various Sarah Palin defenders have come out of the woodwork to defend her mangling of that most American of tales, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
The crux of their defense is an obscure letter that Revere wrote in 1789 that has been preserved by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Here’s the key bit:
I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if  I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and  aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.
Setting aside the likelihood that this is a letter Palin has actually read, the fact still remains that the story of Paul Revere that Americans know and love is one of Revere riding across the countryside alerting the colonists that the redcoats were coming.
This is one of the key stories of the American Revolution, as much legend as history at this point. Nobody references Paul Revere being waylaid by British soldiers and warning them that the Americans were coming. If you answer a question about Paul Revere you talk about his ride, you recite Longfellow. You don’t babble incoherently about warning the British unless you happen to be a half-term former governor of Alaska who simply can’t be bothered to learn a little bit of American history.
I mean, surely Palin could have hired a few tutors between the 2008 debacle and now, right? Does she really honestly think she can just scrape by without spending any time off the publicity circuit? Maybe a course at Khan Academy, or a few hours in a library?
In any case, nobody needs yes men. At least no serious candidate. Maybe her supporters should stop defending her every foible and help her with her education instead.
It sure couldn’t hurt.
P.S. Just to clarify, my broader point is that Palin neither described the famous legend of Paul Revere as told in Longfellow’s poem, or the actual historical events. She mangled the facts (and mangled the syntax much more ferociously) and now her defenders are digging up an obscure story not even relevant to the history itself and holding it up as though Palin knew exactly what she was talking about. This is ludicrous.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Blood Libel" Remark from Palin Sparks Controversy

Posted by Stephanie Condon

Sarah Palin responded in a video this morning to the criticism she has received in the wake of the Tucson shooting, but many people today have been more interested in her choice language than the actual substance of her video response.
"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 that they purport to condemn," Palin said in the video.
She was referring to the criticism she received over her use of images of crosshairs to "target" certain lawmakers during the midterm election cycle.
As the New York Times' Michael Shear explained, "By using the term 'blood libel' to describe the criticism about political rhetoric after the shootings, Ms. Palin was inventing a new definition for an emotionally laden phrase. Blood libel is typically used to describe the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. The term has been used for centuries as the pretext for anti-Semitism and violent pogroms against Jews."
The use of that phrase sparked some commotion in the Jewish community and spurred others to come to Palin's defense. While the term has deep connotations, there are other examples of its use in a modern political context.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Jewish political group J Street released a statement saying he was "saddened" by Palin's use of the term "blood libel."
The term, he said, "brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds. When Governor Palin learns that many Jews are pained by and take offense at the use of the term, we are sure that she will choose to retract her comment, apologize and make a less inflammatory choice of words."
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement that in part defended Palin, saying she had "every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks." However, the group said, "we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition's board of directors, did not address Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel," but said, "It it would have been even better if she simply rose above the accusations about her map and focused entirely on the bigger message of loss, tragedy and the greatness of our country.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who often comments on Israeli affairs, came to Palin's defense, saying that the term has "taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse." Dershowitz said he has used the term himself to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. He added, "There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim."
Ben Smith of Politico also points out that the phrase has been used in a political context before. For instance, the New York Post used it in a 1999 headline "after Hillary Clinton stood by as Suha Arafat accused the Israelis of 'daily and intensive use of poison gas' against Palestinian women and children," Smith reports.
Conservative pundit Glenn Reynolds used the phrase in a Wall Street Journal op-ed just two days ago.