Palin’s right on speech issue

She got that part right. Those pundits from the left who used the deranged acts of one disturbed individual as a reason to attack Palin and the Tea Party have it wrong. Free speech means just that — free speech. Even the twisted political rhetoric of a Sharron Angle and her “Second Amendment solution” to political thought she disagrees with can’t be “outlawed.” Obviously, Sarah Palin’s “crosshairs” targeting of 20 Democratic members of Congress is a sick political tactic — eye-catching, maybe — but sick nonetheless. Fact remains, however, that such speech has and deserves constitutional protection.

As for Palin’s rhetoric, however, it seems she can’t even make a legitimate political point without veering into the weeds of mangled metaphor and insulting invective. Wrapping herself and her right-wing fellow travelers in the discredited and disgusting phrase “blood libel” just shows how out of touch the former governor really is. That she smears that defense on the reputation of the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona confirms that she is tone-deaf. Still, she is crafty in her clumsiness. At the risk of resorting to stereotypes myself, I can’t help but observe that many of her faithful followers probably found yet another cherished Palin punch line in the “blood libel” remark.

As we find ourselves a few days past the act of the massacre itself, progressives seem to be coming to their senses a bit. Liberal politicians seem to be moving away from comments like those of Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who saw the Angle/Palin “Don’t retreat, reload” and “Second Amendment solution” comments as agitating for gun violence — as suggesting bullets are a logical extension of Tea Party political rhetoric. 

Those on the right, on the other hand, seem to be escalating all political discourse to a partisan level. Palin, Beck, Angle, et al seem upset that President Obama is going to Arizona on a mission of healing. Aides say the president has been working hard on his Tucson remarks and that he’ll focus on “pulling the country together.” That has caused a number of spokesmen from the Tea Party crowd to complain that the president is trying to look … well, presidential. They fret that he’ll speak of working together of bipartisanship and of cooperation. They are troubled that the president will use his platform at the University of Arizona to be conciliatory and to seek to heal the nation.

Hmm. On the one hand this lot thinks they are being unduly blamed for being partisan, and on the other hand they worry that a Democrat will get good political marks for trying to heal the country. So — about that partisanship thing again …

No, the Tucson Tragedy is not about free speech, and those who try to make it so are not doing the nation any good at all. You can argue it is about easy access to guns — but it is hard to imagine that someone who has gone as far around the bend as this shooter appears to wouldn’t have been able to find a gun, especially given Arizona’s Wild West gun laws. You can — and many have — argued that this event simply shows how out-of-control political debate has gotten in America. But that is a civility issue, not a constitutional one. You can heap blame on the 24/7 news cycle, but it is unlikely that even a reinstituted “Fairness Doctrine” would have changed the outcome of this story.

The message of Tucson is a simple one: Let’s all be reasonable. Sarah Palin is correct — political debate in this country has always been raucous. Lies have been told, insults hurled and duels fought. Through it all, the nation has persevered. It has done so by occasionally going to extremes, interrupted by periods of serious reflection. As I write this, we don’t know for sure what the president will say Thursday night. But we can hope it will be a sober — and sobering — taking-stock. 

The State of the Union message will be delivered in Tucson this year. We can only hope it is a much better one than what we heard last Saturday.

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen. E-mail: