What Sarah Palin Should Have Said
Coming from David Frum, this advice carries a lot more force than if it were coming from, oh say, Firedoglake or Crooks and Liars, e.g. (emphasis is mine):
The shooting in Arizona shocked the nation into grief – and presented Sarah Palin with an immediate political problem: her now-notorious gunsight map.Palin scrubbed the map from her Palin PAC website, and then issued the following statement on her Facebook page:
My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.
Then, as Palin came under a barrage of criticism, Palin supporters stepped forward to offer defenses. The gunsights were not really gunsights. The criticism of Palin was unfair, even “obscene.”
And of course, Palin and her supporters had some justice on their side. Obviously, Palin never intended to summon people to harm Representative Giffords. There was no evidence that the shooter was a Palin follower, and in short order it became evident that he was actuated by a serious mental illness. Whatever you think about Palin’s “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric, it could not be blamed for this crime.
So – argument won? No. Argument lost.
Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: “Are you culpable for the shooting?” The question was: “Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?”
Here it seems to me are the elements of such an answer.
(1) Take the accusation seriously. That does not mean you accept the accusation, nor even that you explicitly acknowledge it. But understand why people – not all of them necessarily out to get you – might feel negatively about this past action in light of current events.
(2) Express real grief and sincere compassion. “My condolences are offered” is not the language of someone whose heart is much troubled.
(3) Be visible. They’re laying flowers at the congressional office of Gabrielle Giffords. Any reason you can’t join them?
Please read Frum’s entire piece — he has eight specific suggestions, and I did not quote them all here out of length considerations, not because they are not equally valid or important. I stress number two because, although as I said all of Frum’s suggestions are good ones, number two is one that has actually been going through my head — in very similar words — since I saw Palin’s reaction. Among all the reactions I’ve seen — from Washington, from the blogosphere, from the media — hers stands out to me, and not for a good reason. It’s so cold. I don’t know how anyone can read those words and not be struck by the force of Palin’s indifference. And no, I don’t expect her to weep and wail. I just expect her (or maybe expect is the wrong word; I wish she would) sincerely care. If she does, those words don’t convey it.