January 12, 2011: Obama as the Nation’s Consoler / Comforter-In-Chief in Speech at Tucson Shooting Memorial Service, Palin Causes Uproar Invoking the Term ‘Blood Libel’

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

The President & First Lady after his remarks in Tucson

IN FOCUS:

THE HEADLINES….

  • President Obama in Tucson: “The Forces that Divide Us are Not as Strong as Those that Unite Us”: Last night the President spoke to an emotional crowd at a memorial event in Tucson, Arizona. The grief for the victims of the tragic shooting there was overwhelming, but so too was the admiration for the heroes who risked their lives to prevent even greater loss, as well as the hope for the survivors to see full recoveries. The President asked those in the hall and across America to channel their emotions toward the pursuit of a more perfect union, saying that “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate — as it should — let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.”… – WH, 1-13-11TranscriptMp4Mp3
  • How Obama’s Tucson Speech Elevated the Political Debate: In Tucson Wednesday night, it sounded like a campaign rally. A memorial service is no place for the cheers and applause. But the noise was perfect. Not because the president’s words were powerful, though they were, but because the scene matched this moment of noisy distractions. The solemnity of the event was interrupted in the same way the period after the shooting has been interrupted by the political debate. The president’s job was to move past both–to get a message out and through the noise so the country could hear. If it can be done, he did it.
    The president memorialized the dead and celebrated the heroes. He could have stopped there. He could have decided not to tarnish their memory with politics. He made another decision, using just enough politics and the power of his office to build a memorial to their lives by calling the rest of us to live up to their example. That they are deserving of our good example. That was the message. He used that expression when talking about our children but it was his request of the country. “What, beyond prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward? How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?”… – Slate, CBS News, 1-13-11
  • Obama Calls for New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics: President Obama offered the nation’s condolences to the victims of the Tucson shooting rampage, urging Americans on Wednesday to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes and usher in a new era of civility in their memory.
    The president, speaking at a memorial service at the University of Arizona on Wednesday evening, eulogized the six people who were killed here on Saturday and asked Americans to pray for the wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who the authorities say was the target of an attempted assassination. He sought to elevate his remarks above the politics of the moment, challenging all Americans to take a lesson from the tragedy.
    The memorial service, which was carried on all broadcast and cable television networks, was a largely upbeat celebration to the lives of the fallen. The officials who delivered remarks before the president were interrupted by applause from the audience of 14,000, which included many students. The crowd included retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a native of Arizona, as well as Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl and Gov. Jan Brewer, all Republicans.
    Mr. Obama spoke after stopping to visit Ms. Giffords in her hospital room. He said he was told that shortly after his visit, Ms. Giffords opened her eyes for the first time…. – NYT, 1-12-11
  • President Obama Calls for Talk That Heals, Not Wounds: President Obama traveled to Tucson Wednesday to help memorialize those who died in Saturday’s shooting rampage, and to honor those who are still struggling with their wounds. He clearly chose to stay above the fray of the partisan commentary that has been flinging across television and computer screens over the last several days, but he didn’t shy away in joining the call for a more civil discourse…. – PBS Newshour, 1-12-11
  • Tucson shootings: Let us heal together, Obama says at memorial event: President Obama comforted a community suffused with grief and summoned the nation to recommit to a more civil public discourse as he delivered a eulogy Wednesday evening urging Americans to talk with each other “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
    Evoking memories of the six killed here Saturday, Obama seized upon the mass shooting at a congresswoman’s supermarket meet-and-greet to tackle directly the subject of the nation’s harsh political dialogue. He sharply decried the “politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”… – WaPo, 1-12-11
  • Obama urges Americans to unite in tragedy’s wake: At a memorial in Tucson, the president pays tribute to the victims and heroes of the weekend shooting spree. He also reports that Rep. Giffords, whom he visited earlier, opened her eyes for the first time since she was shot… – LAT, 1-12-11
  • Obama honors Arizona victims and heroes: President Obama urged a divided nation Wednesday to come together in memory of six fellow Americans who lost their lives in Saturday’s mass shooting.
    “What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” Obama said during a memorial service at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Obama said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. — seriously wounded in the attack — opened her eyes for the first time during his visit to the hospital.
    “She knows we’re here, and she knows we love her, and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey,” Obama said.
    The president spent most of his time talking about the victims but did allude to the political controversy surrounding the shooting…. – USA Today, 1-12-11
  • Glenn Beck praises Obama for Tucson speech. Can partisan pause last?: Some of President Obama’s sharpest critics – from Glenn Beck to Pat Buchanan – spoke positively of his speech at the memorial service in Tucson Wednesday. But the collegial tone will be tested next week with a repeal of health- care reform on the docket.
    Pat Buchanan, who wrote speeches for President Nixon, called it “splendid.” Michael Gerson, chief speechwriter under President George W. Bush, says “it had a good heart.” Fox News panelists Brit Hume, Charles Krauthammer, and Chris Wallace all voiced praise. Some conservatives have suggested that Mr. Obama should have given such a speech sooner after last Saturday’s shooting rampage at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s event for constituents.
    And then there’s talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who suggested a more craven reason for the timing of the speech. He accused Obama of waiting to deliver his message of “civility” until the polling data were in, confirming that most Americans don’t buy a connection between the shooting and heated political rhetoric. But even in his populist conservative manner, he found an indirect way to acknowledge some positives in the speech. “Fox loved it,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “The Fox All Stars, when this was done, were slobbering over the speech. It was predictable. They were slobbering for the predictable reasons – it as smart, it was articulate…. It was everything the educated, ruling class wants their leaders to be and sound like.”… – CS Monitor, 1-13-11
  • Some question pep rally atmosphere at Obama speech: What was billed as a memorial for victims of the Arizona shooting rampage turned into a rollicking rally, leaving some conservative commentators wondering whether President Barack Obama’s speech was a scripted political event. Not so, insisted the White House and host University of Arizona.
    Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday he and other aides didn’t expect the president’s remarks at the school’s basketball arena to receive as much rousing applause as it did. Gibbs said the crowd’s response, at times cheering and shouting, was understandable.
    “I think part of the grieving process is celebrating the lives of those that were lost, and celebrating the miracles of those that survived,” he said. The university said it did the planning with minimal input from the White House. The school paid for the event, including $60,000 for 10,000 T-shirts bearing the words “Together We Thrive,” which were handed out for free. The money will not come student tuition, fees or tax dollars…. – AP, 1-13-11
  • President Obama to Lead Nation in Mourning at Memorial Service: President Obama was poised Wednesday to honor the victims and heroes of the Arizona shooting rampage at a memorial service in Tucson. Nearly 30,000 people gathered at the University of Arizona’s football stadium, the McKale Memorial Center, for the nighttime service, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
    One of the first speakers at the service was Daniel Hernandez Jr., an intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who has been called a hero for applying pressure to the Arizona Democrat’s wound after she was shot in the head. He delivered a brief but spirited speech in which he said he wasn’t a hero but rather the first responders to the attack and surgeons who saved Giffords’ life.
    “The one thing we have learned from this great tragedy is we have come together,” he said. “On Saturday we all became Tucsonians. On Saturday, we all became Arizonans. And above all, we all became Americans.”
    The crowd in the main venue warmed up with a number of live performances, though “Amazing Grace” was almost drowned out by cheers as the surgeons treating the victims of the massacre were escorted to their seats…. – Fox News, 1-12-11
  • Obama’s role at Tucson memorial service tonight: healer-in-chief: At Tucson memorial service Wednesday, Obama shoulders the duty of trying help a shaken nation heal. After the apparent targeting of a US congresswoman, what will he say? What should he say?
    President Obama on Wednesday travels to Tucson, Ariz., to shoulder a sad responsibility: serving as healer-in-chief of the United States.
    It is a responsibility that too many of his predecessors had to shoulder during their own terms. When assassins strike, or a space shuttle explodes, or terrorists attack the nation, voters look to the White House to honor the victims of the tragedy and to try to explain how strength can be drawn from grief.
    Now it is Mr. Obama’s turn as he speaks Wednesday night from the city where a mass shooting left six dead, a congresswoman gravely injured, and the nation shaken.
    “Every person in the city of Tucson – and I trust in the state and the nation – recognizes the importance of the president of the United States coming to help us pray and heal from this [terrible] tragedy,” said Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup on Wednesday…. – CS Monitor, 1-12-11
  • Palin Joins Debate on Heated Speech With Words That Stir New Controversy: Sarah Palin broke her silence on Wednesday and delivered a forceful denunciation of her critics in a video message about the Arizona shootings, accusing commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in a frenzied rush to blame heated political speech for the violence.
    As she sought to defend herself and seize control of a debate that has been boiling for days, Ms. Palin awakened a new controversy by invoking a phrase fraught with religious symbolism about the false accusation used by anti- Semites of Jews murdering Christian children. It was unclear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase.
    “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said. “Especially 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. That is reprehensible.”
    The video from Ms. Palin, running nearly eight minutes, was recorded in her home television studio in Alaska and released early Wednesday morning. Her words dominated the political landscape for nearly 12 hours before President Obama arrived in Tucson to speak at a memorial service honoring the six dead and 14 injured in the shootings…. – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’: The term blood libel is generally used to mean the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make it rapidly go viral, is itself attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish. Reaction to Ms. Palin’s video was swift… – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Palin’s ‘blood libel’ remark overwhelms message: It was a well-crafted message preaching unity — and mined with a “blood libel” that blew it all apart. Sarah Palin’s video message Wednesday, her first substantial commentary since Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, at first appeared to succeed in reconciling two American precepts that have seemed irreconcilable in recent days: a common purpose and a rough- and-tumble political culture….
    The question, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, was whether using a charged term like blood libel reinforced Palin’s legitimate argument at the unfair targeting of the right wing in the days after the shooting – or whether using the term undercuts the point. “It distracts from her argument, which is thoughtful,” Jamieson told JTA. “If you are trying to get an audience to rethink, you don’t inject this particular historic analogy.”… – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Palin slammed for using ‘blood libel’ term: Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to decry blaming conservatives for the Arizona shooting has raised the ire of some in the Jewish community…. – JTA, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s ‘blood libel’ claim stirs controversy: Sarah Palin’s newest Facebook page video scolds critics who say her high-firepower rhetoric could have contributed to Saturday’s Arizona shooting rampage. But her use of an emotionally-charged phrase has spawned a controversy all its own.
    Palin called herself the victim of “blood libel” — the original term for blaming Jews for the death of Jesus and an anti-Semitic rallying call that led to countless deaths of Jews, primarily in Europe and Russia.
    Many rabbis called her remarks insensitive, ill-chosen and offensive to Holocaust survivors and other victims of anti-Semitism. Palin’s new video “was like waving a red flag,” said Rabbi David Sapperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “It concerns us. It escalates the intensity of the rhetoric, rather than calming it down. It seems to me she’s missed an opportunity at real leadership.”
    Palin aide Rebecca Mansour said the former Alaska governor stands by her video. “There has been an incredible increase in death threats against Gov. Palin since the tragedy in Arizona, since she’s been accused of having the blood of those victims on her hands,” Mansour said. “When you start to accuse people of having the blood of innocent people on their hands, it incites violence.”… – USA Today, 1-12-11
  • ‘Blood libel’ has particular, painful meaning to Jewish people: The phrase used by Sarah Palin against her detractors usually refers to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers — and sometimes leading to massacres of their communities.
    In saying her critics “manufactured a blood libel,” Sarah Palin deployed a phrase linked to the false accusations made for centuries against Jews, often to malign them as child killers who coveted the blood of Christian children.
    Blood libel has been a central fable of anti-Semitism in which Jews have been accused of using the blood of gentile children for medicinal purposes or to mix in with matzo, the unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover. The spreading of the blood libel dates to the Middle Ages — and perhaps further — and those allegations have led to massacres of Jewish communities for just as long.
    The term blood libel carries particular power in the Jewish community, though it has taken on other shades of meaning. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that “while the term blood libel has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.” LAT, 1-12-11
  • Sarah Palin’s charge of ‘blood libel’ spurs outcry from Jewish leaders: Sarah Palin’s remarks Wednesday in which she accused critics who would tie her political tone to the Arizona shootings of committing a “blood libel” against her have prompted an instant and pronounced backlash from some in America’s Jewish community. The term dates to the Middle Ages and refers to a prejudice that Jewish people used Christian blood in religious rituals…. – LAT, 1-12-11
  • Palin death threats rise to unprecedented levels: Death threats to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have increased to unprecedented levels in the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, an aide tells ABC News…. – The Daily Caller, 1-13-11
  • Krauthammer on debating Palin’s use of ‘blood libel’: ‘Have we completely lost our minds?’: It has been over four days since a shooting in Tucson that claimed six lives and injured 14, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. However, one of the dominating themes of the day is a debate over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s response. On Fox News Channel’s Wednesday broadcast of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer questioned the sanity of this debate, which involved Palin accusing “journalists and pundits” of manufacturing “a blood libel.”
    “[T]he fact is that even the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League in expressing a mild rebuke to Palin for using this admitted itself in its statement that the term ‘blood libel’ has become part of English parlance to refer to someone falsely accused,” Krauthammer said. “Let’s step back for a second. Here we have a brilliant, intelligent, articulate, beautiful, wife, mother and congresswoman fighting for her life, in a hospital in Tucson, and we’re having a national debate over whether the term ‘blood libel’ can be used appropriately in a non-Jewish context? Have we completely lost our minds?”… – Daily Caller, 1-13-11

112TH CONGRESS

 

 

  • John Boehner, House speaker, picks RNC cocktail party over Tucson, Arizona shooting memorial: House Speaker John Boehner is taking heat from some Democrats after skipping out on Wednesday’s memorial service for the shooting victims in Arizona and instead hosting a cocktail party for the Republican National Committee. The Ohio Republican turned down President Obama’s invitation to travel on Air Force One to Tucson, Politico reported.
    “It is disrespectful for Speaker Boehner to skip joining the President’s and bipartisan congressional delegation to the Tucson Memorial so he could host a Washington D.C. cocktail party for RNC members,” a Democratic leadership aide told the political website.
    But the reception was billed as a chance for the Boehner to meet with RNC delegates in his new role as House leader. “Yesterday, Rep. Giffords’ colleagues on both sides of the aisle honored her and mourned those who were lost,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner told the Daily News. “The Speaker felt his place was here in the House, with them,” He added that Boehner left his RNC event before Obama spoke in Arizona and watched the President’s speech…. – NY Daily News, 1-13-11
  • Arizona shootings won’t isolate lawmakers, John Boehner tells House: As the House prepares to pass a resolution honoring the Tucson shooting victims — including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — Speaker John Boehner says the attack won’t stop members from ‘being among the people we serve.’… – LAT, 1-12-11
  • House tribute to Giffords: ‘Violence cannot silence’: House Speaker John Boehner has formally introduced a resolution paying tribute to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the Arizona shooting spree that left her gravely wounded and six others dead. The four-page resolution is simply written, with sections honoring Giffords, each of the deceased, the wounded, and people such as Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez and event attendee Patricia Maisch who tried to save lives and apprehend the shooter.
    The resolution offers the condolences of the House and reaffirms the belief of lawmakers “in a democracy in which all can participate and in which intimidation and threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American.” The first of the deceased recognized in the “whereas” clauses is Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest of those slain. The 9-year-old girl and her life story have captured the nation’s attention. As the House resolution states, Christina was at Giffords’ “Congress on your Corner” event on Saturday because she had “an avid interest in government.”
    Boehner will gavel the House to order on Wednesday and then open four to six hours of debate on the resolution. A bipartisan prayer service honoring Giffords and the Arizona shooting victims will be held at 1 p.m. ET…. – USA Today, 1-11-11
  • House Resolution Honors Heroes, Victims of Tucson Tragedy:
    112TH CONGRESS
    1ST SESSION H. RES. ___
    Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011.
    IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
    Mr. BOEHNER submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on lll
    RESOLUTION
    Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011.
    Whereas on January 8, 2011, an armed gunman opened fire at a “Congress on your Corner” event hosted by Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, killing and wounding at least 14 others…. – ABC, 1-11-11

QUOTES

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  • Text Obama’s Remarks in Tucson: Following is a text of President Obama’s prepared address on Wednesday to honor those killed and wounded in a shooting on Jan. 8, as released by the White House….
    But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
    Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
    For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.
    So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future….
    That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.
    And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. So deserving of our love.
    And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle…. – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Michelle Obama: An Open Letter to Parents Following the Tragedy in Tucson: Dear parents, Like so many Americans all across the country, Barack and I were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of violence committed in Arizona this past weekend. Yesterday, we had the chance to attend a memorial service and meet with some of the families of those who lost their lives, and both of us were deeply moved by their strength and resilience in the face of such unspeakable tragedy….
    And that’s something else we can do for our children – we can tell them about Christina and about how much she wanted to give back. We can tell them about John Roll, a judge with a reputation for fairness; about Dorothy Morris, a devoted wife to her husband, her high school sweetheart, to whom she’d been married for 55 years; about Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother who sewed aprons for church fundraisers; about Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker who helped neighbors down on their luck; and about Gabe Zimmerman, who did community outreach for Congresswoman Giffords, working tirelessly to help folks who were struggling, and was engaged to be married next year. We can tell them about the brave men and women who risked their lives that day to save others. And we can work together to honor their legacy by following their example – by embracing our fellow citizens; by standing up for what we believe is right; and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities and our country. – WH, 1-13-11
  • Sarah Palin: America’s Enduring Strength: ….The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
    Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially 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 they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
    There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure…. – Sarah Palin on Facebook, 1-12-11Video
  • The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that, in part, came to Ms. Palin’s defense, Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said in a statement: “It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder, Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks.” But Mr. Foxman added that “we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel.'” He called it a phrase “fraught with pain in Jewish history.” – NYT, 1-12-11
  • Benyamin Korn, Director Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin: “Sarah Palin got it right, and we Jews, of all people, should know a blood libel when we see one. Falsely accusing someone of shedding blood is a blood libel, whether it’s medieval Christians accusing Jews of baking blood in Passover matzahs, or contemporary Muslim extremists accusing Israel of slaughtering Arabs to harvest their organs, or political partisans blaming conservative political figures and talk show hosts for the Tucson massacre.”
  • David Harris, president of the National Democratic Jewish Council, in a statement: “Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others. This is of course a particularly heinous term for American Jews, given that the repeated fiction of blood libels are directly responsible for the murder of so many Jews across centuries — and given that blood libels are so directly intertwined with deeply ingrained anti-Semitism around the globe, even today.”
  • Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice: “The term ‘blood libel’ is not a synonym for ‘false accusation,’ It refers to a specific falsehood perpetuated by Christians about Jews for centuries, a falsehood that motivated a good deal of anti-Jewish violence and discrimination. Unless someone has been accusing Ms. Palin of killing Christian babies and making matzoh from their blood, her use of the term is totally out of line.”
  • Benyamin Korn: Op-Ed: Blame real inciters, not Palin and Tea Parties: Extreme rhetoric can inspire extreme behavior, even violence. But there isn’t a shred of evidence that anything that anyone on the political right — or left — said or wrote inspired Jared Lee Loughner to launch his deadly rampage in Arizona…. – JTA, 1-13-11
  • Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush in Pundit Wire: “The term ‘blood libel’ is so unique, and so tinged with the context of anti-Semitism, that its use in this case — even when Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe — is either cynically calculated to stimulate media interest or historically illiterate. It is therefore distracting to Ms. Palin’s underlying message, which is one of sympathy for the victims and outrage that she and others are being accused of inspiring a mass murderer.”

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Historian Douglas Brinkley says Tucson will be a place in ‘history like a Selma or Birmingham in the 1960s’: As the shock wanes from the aftermath of Saturday’s Tucson tragedy, how might this event be remembered historically? According to noted historian Douglas Brinkley, a fellow at the Baker Institute and a professor of history at Rice University, it will rank up there with one of the bloodiest times in U.S. history, the Civil Rights Era in Alabama, including the September 15, 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham and the March 7, 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma.
    “Well you know Tucson now is one of these places people are going to talk about in history like a Selma or Birmingham in the 1960s,” Brinkley said. “It seems like a war zone spot and if you go to Selma or Birmingham today, they cope with that past. They have museums and memorials. This is the beginning of the healing for that community of Tucson and it’s very significant that President Obama’s coming, and hugging people, talking to people – making them know he feels the pain of the entire community and the nation.”… – The Daily Caller, 1-13-11
  • Obama Offers Words of Comfort at Arizona Shooting Memorial: This is a moment in which he speaks for the country as a whole, and when the rhetoric succeeds, we, as a country, feel a sense of renewal; the moment of destruction is translated into a moment of recommitment to our basic democratic ideals. — Kathleen Hall Jamieson
    Edward Widmer, a former speech writer for President Bill Clinton, and a historian at Brown University; and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, tell us how Obama goes about writing and delivering such an important speech…. – The Take Away, 1-12-11Mp3 Download
  • In Times of Tragedy, Presidents Often Called on as ‘Comforters-In-Chief’: President Obama’s address in Tucson will echo a broader role presidents must play as leaders of national mourning. Jim Lehrer looks back on presidential responses to national crises with historian Michael Beschloss and Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire. – PBS Newshour, 1-12-11Mp3
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, professor, University of New Hampshire: I think it’s true in the sense of various kinds of national tragedies like the explosion of the Challenger, one example, of course, an obvious one. But, in acts of political violence, there’s an interesting history to this. In 1935, when Senator Huey Long was assassinated, President Roosevelt issued a two-sentence statement upon that occasion, saying that he deeply regretted this attack on Long and that violence was un-American.
    But, in 1968, when Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in the midst of a presidential campaign, President Johnson gave a national address in which he decried the climate of violence, the rhetoric of extremism in the country. He called for Congress to enact gun control laws. And it was really, actually, quite a powerful speech. It was a different speech in many ways, which I think are more common in recent years, in which the themes really are of the nation speaking through its president its condolences to the victims and trying to bring the country together in this moment of national mourning.
    And today, of course, the newspapers were filled with discussions of what President Obama would say. So, there’s a greatly heightened attention to the president in his role as the chief executive of our country, as in some sense the person who we look to for moral leadership at a moment like this.
    These tragedies, unfortunately, have happened all across our country. But for the people that live locally and experience them very — very immediately, there’s a kind of visceral response and a worry that their — the place that they live will be associated, as if somehow violence and irrationality and this horrific attack would be something that would be restricted to one place, and not symptomatic of some sort of deeper problem. One of the interesting themes in the presidential addresses on these occasions is that they try to personalize the victims of these tragedies very often to make them real people, and so that everyone will understand the nature of the loss that is sustained in these mass murder events. Presidents very often have done that. And they often reach out to children who, tragically, have been so deeply impacted by these events, in this case, a young — young child losing her life.
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But, you know, mthe founders said one of the jobs of a president is head of state. That’s a unifying function. Another part of it is prime minister, essentially, which is divisive. And, so, especially in the wake of an election loss like Barack Obama’s, it’s a moment that he can show that he can do a very good job of unifying the country in explaining what has happened. And there’s the echo — you had it in your report — Bill Clinton in 1995. He had lost both houses of Congress. Many people were saying, was he relevant? He gave a very moving speech that caused people to think, maybe there’s more to Clinton than I thought.
    Well, one of them is, you don’t shoot members of Congress. And anyone who doesn’t agree with that doesn’t deserve to be in this country at all. So, there really are. And the sweet thing is that we’re living in this poisonous time. There’s so much conflict. Everyone seems to be cynical. There’s still something in Americans that causes them, even if it’s a president they didn’t vote for, to listen to what a president says and say, how does he see this? What is he going to tell us about what this means?
  • Gil Troy: The Political Fight after the Arizona Gunfight: Right Target, Wrong Trigger: The Tucson, Arizona, rampage left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, six citizens dead, and millions of Americans jumping to the right conclusions for the wrong reasons. Yes, we need more civility in our politics. But no, we should not use one crazy gunman’s random fixations and horrific violence to trigger the kind of reform modern political culture needs.
    I confess, having written in 2008 Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, calling for centrism and civility, I am tempted to flow with the conventional wisdom this time. Right after this mass shooting at one of Gifford’s “Congress on Your Corner” citizen meet-and-greets, preaching pundits began blaming the vitriol in general, and Republicans in particular. The fact that Sarah Palin’s website featured Giffords’s district in crosshairs in in 2010, supposedly symbolized everything wrong with politics today….
    Recently, in Tucson, Arizona, a sweet nine-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green was elected to her student council. Born on September 11, 2001, Christina was always a particularly welcome symbol of hope to her friends and family. Last Saturday, a neighbor invited Christina to meet Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and “see how democracy works.” Christina ended up murdered, shot in the chest.
    We should cultivate a politics of civility, not because of the insane murderer but because we all want to show “how democracy works,” in Christina’s memory, to honor Gabrille Giffords’ lifework, and for our common good… – 1-11-11
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Extremism is a vice, not a virtue: …The shooting may have been the result of mental illness without any connection to recent political debates. But, given the political climate, it has immediately stimulated debate about the dangers of extremism in American politics.
    In an age that has fueled all sorts of extremist organizations and writers — facilitated by the ease of reaching an audience over the internet — the major political parties need to take extremely strong stands against fringe organizations that promote violence or use incendiary rhetoric to target opponents.
    Extremist organizations have always existed in American politics, but the internet is now giving them an easy forum to reach national audiences quickly…. – CNN, 1-12-11

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