What Palin Needed to Say After Giffords’ Shooting

January 10th, 2011 at 4:30 am David Frum | 240 Comments |

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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?

(4) Join the conversation. You have often complained about out-of-bounds personal comments directed toward you (eg, David Letterman’s). Now try to show toward others the same empathy that you demand from others. Innocent as you feel yourself to be, try to imagine how it must have felt to be Giffords during this past campaign season: guns showing up at her rallies, her offices vandalized, death threats – and your map as the finishing touch. Imagine how her family must feel. Speak to them.

(5) Challenge your opponents. In the past hours, many people have cited President Obama’s (borrowed) line about bringing a knife to a gun fight. They have a point! At the same time as you publicly commit to raise your game, invite your political opponents to raise theirs. Instead of deflecting the blame, share it.

(6) Raise the issue of mental health. Remember how you were going to be an advocate for children with special needs? Can’t more be done to intervene to help potentially dangerous schizophrenics – and to protect society from the risk of violence?  (Read this by Dr. Sally Satel to start your thinking on the subject. ) The best way to underscore that Loughner was not motivated by Tea Party ideology is to remind them of what did impel him.

(7) Think what you would like – not your supporters – but your opponents to say about you. “She was tough, but never a hater.” “No matter how strongly she disagreed, she was always gracious.” “I might not agree with her answer, but I could see she had thought hard about it.” Then, having thought about it, go be that person.

(8) Last: suppose you were president right now. The country would want you to say something about this terrible crime. What is that something? Say it now.

Of course, Palin has yet to give the answer called for by events. Instead, her rapid response operation has focused on pounding home the message that Palin is innocent, that she has been unfairly maligned by hostile critics. Which in this case happened to be a perfectly credible message. And also perfectly inadequate. Palin’s post-shooting message was about Palin, not about Giffords. It was defensive, not inspiring. And it was petty at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous.

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240 Comments so far ↓

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  • lessadoabouteverything

    kbky: If it turns out that this man was a follower of the Right, subscribed to Palin’s tweets, listened to Glenn Beck, etc., then there will be plenty of time for (deserved) accusations.

    I disagree with this. The actions of the shooter are his own. I make no accusations, I only ask for some self reflection, that language that incites violence has no place in political campaigns, instead of all this indignation. And if it turns out that he was a follower of the right, do you honestly expect a single mea culpa from anyone on the right? I do not expect one, but just a hint of regret that they have used language that was inappropriate.

    I have never called Bush a Nazi, never painted a bullseye over any candidate, never called any Republican policy I disagreed with as tyranny. Why can I not expect the same level of discourse as anyone I disagree with. Call me an idiot, that is fine, but don’t say I should be “taken out.”

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    ProfNickD: “All of this babying has consequences, namely we’re afraid to do the things necessary to win the war against Islamism. We’re afraid to deal with North Korea. And Iran. And even Somali pirates.”

    If only we would force our children to ride without seat belts, then terrorists would know we’re really tough and they wouldn’t blow themselves up in cafes in Pakistan and Iraq, and North Korea and Iran would relinquish their nuclear weapons aspirations despite the fact that that’s probably the only thing preventing a U.S. invasion.

    This is brilliant thinking indeed. Did you come up with this all on your own?

  • lessadoabouteverything

    spartacus, right, that has got to be one of the most profoundly stupid things any poster has ever said. People are pansies because they put their kids in car seats. Beyond that, being that my kids have to go to school damn right I would rather they eat healthy food than junk food, or is being obese somehow manly too? I shudder to think this guy is actually a Professor somewhere, unless it is in his downstairs “bidness collage” that he runs out of his basement. Verbally fencing with some of these people make me feel like King Arthur against the black knight, who after having his arms and legs chopped off still thinks he is a match.

    Of course thank God there are more than enough rational Conservatives around here, makes it worthwhile to come.

  • JimBob

    Well Gee Drex, Palin put Giffords on list of vulnerable Democrats. Her seat in congress was targeted. Guess what Drex, both Democrats and Republicans have been doing that for years. Back in 2006 the Democrats put dozens of Republican seats that they were going to target.

  • pnumi2

    Well, in a little more than two days this heart wrenching episode has gone from the tragic to the blame-game to sick humor.

    The political equivalent of a Michael Vick dog fight. And still advocates from both sides are lined up with their snarling remarks waiting to get in the ring and fight the other side.

    Enough already.

    The big loser will be America when it becomes a nation of two armed camps. At each other throats in the blogs and on television. At this moment policy makers on either side are working to suspend habeus corpus and arrest those who blame Palin. While the other side would do the same to those who blame the blamers.

  • Ouroboros

    What Palin really needed to say was “I am leaving public life, now. Thanks for the dough. Let’s go, Todd.”

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  • sdspringy

    It takes awhile but I recommend everyone do it.

    Review this forum and find actual posting expressing any support, prayers for recovery, words of comfort for parents who have lost a child or children who have a parent.

    You find none from us nor will you find any from David Frum which would appear extremely odd considering Frum has found ample time to place blame and recommend what other should do.

    This same logic being shared by a majority of posters as well

    My hope and prayers go out to the family of Gabrielle Giffords as well to the families of others injured by this senseless act. May they completely recover and rejoin their loved ones. May the comfort of friends, family and faith in the Almighty aid those who have lost loved ones because of this terrible tragedy.

  • ProfNickD


    So I guessed correctly — you are one of the liberal/progressive types who thinks that legislators and government bureaucrats ought to make us “safe,” like mom does.

    And yes, there is a direct connection between this wussification of America and America’s unwillingness to devastate our enemies. It’s obvious because even the thought of dropping a 20 megaton nuclear device on Mecca, much less actually doing it, makes liberal/progressives… cry.

    Tell me, who has more balls: Harry Truman or Barack Obama? I trust that nobody really has to carefully think about this.

  • sdspringy

    And now as this story has developed over the last day what do we know about Loughner.

    We know by his posting that the government was using “grammar” as a tool for “mind control”.
    Is this somehow political, I don’t think so.

    We know he had an alter of burned oranges with a skull. I don’t think this is a political statement.

    We know Loughner was a registered Independent and DID NOT vote in the 2010 elections.
    So this would imply he was not motivated by any current political rhetoric to even vote let alone commit mass murder.

    We only know that a very disturbed individual committed acts we all find reprehensible. Applying any further responsibility for these acts is in fact incredibly irresponsible

  • pnumi2


    “My hope and prayers go out to the family of Gabrielle Giffords as well to the families of others injured by this senseless act. May they completely recover and rejoin their loved ones. May the comfort of friends, family and faith in the Almighty aid those who have lost loved ones because of this terrible tragedy.”

    I was hoping your little ‘prayer’ was going to be the end of it, but no such luck. Three more instances of getting your point across.

    Why didn’t you just say at the end of the prayer: “…because of this terrible tragedy which was not politically motivated.”?

  • anniemargret

    KBKY: @me: “To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the some of the Right’s more inappropriate messages are acceptable, far from it, but it does mean that we shouldn’t equivocate the two events without knowing what really happened. ”

    I hear you. And yes, there is much more to be learned from this terrible event.

    Yet…with all due respect…I’ve been, along with thousands of other Americans, talking about hate-speech. Even if what happened has nothing whatever to do with politics, I believe now is the time for all men and women of good intent to examine just what kind of an example we are sending to our children.

    btw…heard a licensed mental health practitioner say that if you take a pathology and layer it with ideology, you can get what we have seen. That mentally ill people grab onto an ideology and then use to act on their fears and hate.

    Don’t we as a nation have a responsibility to our children, as adults? You say there is no ‘equivocation’ between right wing hate speech which has been 24/7 on everyone’s radio dial, TV, Internet for a long time now, and the possibility that some of this atmosphere THEY created in the public airwaves has nothing to do with each other?

    I say not. I say that hate speech is dangerous, no matter where it comes from. Neo-Nazis, John Birch Society, the Weathermen, KKK, etc… or as simply from a political party that lost its integrity and its boundaries of decorum and decency. It became more than over the top analogies and metaphors, it became dangerous talk, because we all know that unstable people like Loughner, and haters in general, will grab anything they can to justify what they want to do.

    It’s like putting flame near a jug of gasoline and then pretending the fire was simply shocking…

    I mentioned here before. As a Democrat, if I had been hearing the same level of public hate leveled by Democrats, my feelings would be the same – I would be calling them out, and if the party couldn’t address the issue to my satisfaction, I would become an Independent again.

    So far, I’ve heard some pretty stupid things coming out of some Democrats mouths, but not anything like the ‘take him out’ and ‘crosshairs’ ‘targets’ garbage, or the ‘investigate all Democrats for Un-American activities’ that Bachmann suggested. The ‘kill him!” rants of bigots at Palin’s early rallies, or the “Liar!’ rant at the POTUS in the halls of Congress on national TV, etc…

    Doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘minority’ or not…. if the ‘majority’ stays silent, then they are complicit. If you see and hear something wrong or immoral, you speak out against it, not support it.

    There is something radically wrong and potentially dangerous happening in America, where many former Presidents have been shot and killed in the past, to ignore the potential for further tragedies that *could* be more allied with politics. This is a wake-up call for all Americans of every political stripe.

  • anniemargret

    springy: Fine. He was an Eagle Scout, perhaps. No matter.

    Let’s pretend this event didn’t happen, OK?

    But we can still discuss whether or not hate speech has the potential to push unstable and hatefilled minds over the edge to violence. Can we do this? Please?

    You know why…it’s very important. Anyone who cares about our children should be open to discussing this. This is not about discussing the policies of a particular politician that you or I like or dislike. This is about the creating an atmosphere of hate that could lead to more hate and more violence.

    I think it’s important to discuss. Now. Not next year, or the year after. Now is the perfect time.

  • pnumi2


    You know discussing it can be just as dangerous as not. In some instances those who have never paid attention to some subject get their big idea from hearing an intelligent discussion of it.

    And there’s always: che sera sera.

  • Churl

    No, Mr. Frum, Palin won’t hire you as a speechwriter.

  • sdspringy

    Annie the agency tasked with enforcing a “hate speech” standard would in itself be inherently dangerous.

    Possibly a better solution would be to educate children on verbal abuse while in school and in a reasonably safe environment. Coordinating that with parental interaction during the lesson plan may help individuals cope with what they hear and how it affects them.

    It may be due to the intense media immersion that the youths are under now that the old adage ” sticks and stone” is no longer effective in preventing harm from bullying. But placing the government in the extreme role of “Big Brother” monitoring the public discourse is a little freaky.

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  • KBKY

    I understand your point, every person has free will and despite outside influences, he or she is responsible for the decision to pull the trigger. I feel, however, that a level of personal accountability would be necessary if it turned out that this attack was ideologically motivated by right-wing commentators. Would I want anyone to be tried or convicted? No, but I think that a discussion of some of the responsibilities that go along with free speech and political rhetoric would be in order. I would expect other media outlets and the public to hold some of those negative influences accountable and ensure that such a discussion took place.

    You are also making the common mistake of equating every figure on the right. There is a huge difference between a Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin and a Lisa Murkowski or Bobby Jindal. While you may never hear Sarah Palin apologize, there would be a huge backlash against the more extreme wing of the Right. If you look at some of the press releases by the Tea Party groups, they also sound horrified. No one, not Right, not Left, not Magenta wants this kind of violence in this country. Don’t sell your fellow Americans short.

  • pnumi2

    sdspringy’s suggestion is good but we may be way too late for it. The students that would be properly educated probably won’t be interested in politics for a decade or more and the way things are spinning out of control, viz. the toxic blogs here and everywhere else the last few days, something has to be done immediately.

    The only thing I can think of is the very public empaneling of blue ribbon committees in each of the political parties to monitor the speech of their party. And to be hypercritical of the speech, cartoons and images used by members of their party to portray the opposition.

    The media would to be involved, not so much to evaluate the party member’s speech, but the honest and accurate criticism of the blue ribbon committees.

    I’d like to hope sdspringy is right and we have 10 years and more to fix this. But with the national debt growing faster than the gnp, well….Sufficient unto the day, are the troubles thereof.

  • KBKY

    I see your point and I can understand why a lot of the rhetoric used by members of the extreme Right is both offensive and frustrating. Once again, however, I would caution against the blanket labeling of it as “hate speech”. A lot of this type of rhetoric isn’t new. Some of the publications back in our founding days call opposing politicians traitors and encourage violence. We have this impression of a time of gentler politics, but it never really existed. We have been sending these messages to our children as long as we have been a nation. Years later we’ve regretted it, but this isn’t just a country of freedoms and opportunity (though in my mind those are its most prevalent aspects), it is a country of internment camps, of racism, of rebellion, and of assassination. Compared to the McCarthy era or times when politicians physically attacked each other in the chamber, I would say that our politics aren’t doing so badly.

    True hate speech is a disgusting thing. It equates our fellow man as less than human for the sole purpose of denying him rights or worse. What is happening now, for the most part, is not hate speech. Is it inappropriate? Yes. Does it sometimes stretch the bounds of decency? Absolutely. But I think we need to be careful what comments we label with such a powerful term. The Right wing, even some members of the more extreme Right wing, are not at the same level as the KKK and I feel that such a comparison is both unfair and could also lead to a dangerous place.

    So, although I agree that members of the Right wing should examine their rhetoric and genuinely consider what messages they want to send, I think it is a gross exaggeration to say that there is something “radically wrong and potentially dangerous happening in America.” What is happening is the same thing that usually happens during a recession, frankly, with less violence against immigrants than usually occurs. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to improve, that there aren’t lessons to be learned, but we should maintain our perspective in the process. As Jon Stewart said during his Rally to Restore Sanity “We live now in hard times, but these are not End Times.”

  • habsfan

    The political mudslinging has no place in this debate. The work of a deranged individual must not paint all those who hold opposing views with the same brush. Reason must prevail.
    In 1989 a deranged man entered a university classroom and shot 19 women. This became the “Montreal Massacre” and gave gun control advocates the political wind to introduce a billion dollar ineffective gun registry (criminals do not register their weapons!). A sad event led to bad policy because opposition to the gun registry was equivalent to endorsing the murder of innocent women. That is an example of what happens when tragedies become politicized.

    Our thoughts with all those who suffered.

  • politicalfan

    Churl- That was kind of clever

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  • WillyP

    let’s go habs!

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    less: “Verbally fencing with some of these people make me feel like King Arthur against the black knight, who after having his arms and legs chopped off still thinks he is a match.”


  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    habsfan: “A sad event led to bad policy because opposition to the gun registry was equivalent to endorsing the murder of innocent women. That is an example of what happens when tragedies become politicized.”

    Of course, the attempted assassination of Reagan also led to the Brady Bill, which laid a foundation for the assault weapons ban, which placed a limit on the size of ammunition clips that could be sold, which, if still in place, most likely would have prevented the Tuscon gunman from shooting so many people.

    So, yeah, let’s not learn anything from this experience and that way we may get to do this all over again.

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  • Stickeenotes

    The body of a 9 year old little girl is not a political football, David. I think you need to step away and gain some perspective.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    kbky: You are also making the common mistake of equating every figure on the right. There is a huge difference between a Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin and a Lisa Murkowski or Bobby Jindal.

    I absolutely agree with that, I have not equated every figure on the right, I like Mike Huckabee a lot, could never imagine him saying anything of this type of nonsense (I wouldn’t vote for him, but that is entirely different). Romney might say dumb things but I have not read him say evil things, the same with Jindal, Huntsmen, etc.

  • SpaceyG

    Even OJ knew better than to try to defend himself in court. Palin’s not that bright I guess.

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    Simpy put, David Frum is infatuated with Sarah Palin and like the intellectual five year old that he is he routinely displays his affection via infantile albeit irrational hitpieces of this nature.

  • habsfan

    WillP Rock on!

    Spartacus, the data does not support the arguement. Both the polytechnique and Dawson massacres were carried out by deranged individuals with legally controlled weapons. In the case of the Dawson, Kimvir Gil legally owned a controlled weapon and carried out the heinous crime. Going further back, Cpl Denis Lortie opened fire in the the provincial legislature with a submachine gun stolen from a military armoury. No amount of legislation will prevent lunatics from carrying out murders. Handguns have been banned since the 1930`s. Toronto was plagued with all sorts of gang related shootings leading to the death of innocent bystanders. These weapons are illegal…yet widely used and easily obtainable for the crimes that are commited with them.

    I have had the opportunity to meet David Frum and the message he delivered to my students was one of respectful debate. Disagree with him surely, but do not make it personal. Many interveners disagreed with him, but no comments were ever made about his person. Our most liberal Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau is famous for explaining to his children that although he may have regulalry clashed in the House with the Leader of the opposition, that he respected him and was always curteous and polite when they met outside of the political world. Trudeau was intellectually scathing in the world of ideas, but gracious in the world of people…..

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  • WillyP

    I met David Frum while at school in Montreal, actually. And damn right go Habs. Great, passionate team and fun fans!

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