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Guest Thinkers

Sarah Palin, Blood Libel, and Death Panels

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin claims she is the victim of “blood libel,” a reference to the anti-Semitic claim that Jews sacrifice Christian children. A Jewish congresswoman got a bullet through her brain, but Sarah Palin is casting herself as the victim because some people have criticized her. Talk about chutzpah.

The “blood libel” charge is especially rich coming from someone who repeatedlyinsisted that health care reform would create “death panels” to kill the elderly, the infirm, and disabled children:

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil,” Palin wrote last week.

Death panels were a complete fabrication, of course. Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled ‘Advance Care Planning Consultation,” would have reimbursed doctors for discussing end-of-life options with Medicare patients. It had nothing to do with babies and nothing to do with euthanasia. Even that innocuous language was removed from the final version of the bill. The death panel fantasy is supposed to remind people of real-life Nazi euthanasia programs. It’s part and parcel of the Obama-as-Nazi signage that kept popping up at Tea Party rallies.

Much has been written about the fundraising graphic that Palin published the day after Gabrielle Giffords had her office window shot out or kicked in. Palin’s ad showed gun sights drawn over the districts of representatives who had voted for health care reform, including Giffords.

The ad got a lot of attention because it specifically mentioned Giffords, who felt sufficiently threatened at the time to publicly call Palin out.

After the shooting, Palin tacitly conceded the point by taking down the graphic and later sending a spokeswoman out to claim that the symbols on the map were surveyors’ symbols and not gun sights.

We can debate about when political rhetoric crosses the line into intimidation. We should all agree that there is no room in a civilized society for falsely branding your political enemies as baby killers and Nazis. That’s real libel.

The consequences of spreading those rumors can be much further-reaching than bellicose fundraising appeals. Nobody is going to shoot a congresswoman just because Sarah Palin put a gunsight on a graphic, even if that kind of imagery ultimately contributes to a climate of hostility that indirectly raise the risk of violence against political candidates.

However, there are any number of people, of any number of political orientations, who might feel justified in using violence against people whom they believe to be baby killers and/or Nazi tyrants.


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