Wednesday, January 12, 2011


(UPDATE: I see that Ms. Palin has disabled the embedded copies of her speech -- below and on several other sites -- and has rendered it password-protected at Vimeo. Hypersensitive much, Sarah? I've inserted the CBS News version below instead. You can also watch the speech at YouTube. Wonder if she'll try to sue to get those clips taken down.) (Never mind -- the Vimeo version of the Palin video is back. I apologize to her and her team if this was just a technical glitch.)

I finally watched Sarah Palin's fireside chat in its entirety, and, to state the obvious, it certainly isn't what we've always thought of as "presidential" in times like this. It's not gracious. It's almost exclusively devoted to score-settling. Much as I loathe the woman, I don't blame her for what Jared Loughner did, and if she feels she's been made a scapegoat, I suppose it's not surprising that she wants to devote a speech entirely to fighting back. But she chose to give this speech on the day President Obama is speaking in Tucson, which almost certainly means she's appointed herself as his debating partner today, the person (self-)selected to give the GOP rebuttal.

Under those circumstances, she absolutely should have given a speech that was primarily about the loss and the victims and the community. Not only would that have been more humane and decent, it would have been a more effective answer to her critics than a point-by-point rebuttal of what they've said. It would have been a sign -- the first sign, ever -- that she has the capacity to do what we've always expected presidents to do at a time like this.

But I think she doesn't care what we've always expected of presidents at a time like this, because she thinks we live in a new era now, an era in which good patriots stew in resentment just the way she does, rather than trying to rise above it. Who knows? She may have a point about the national mood.

In any case, compare her speech with the speech President Clinton delivered in Oklahoma City on April 23, 1995. Clinton barely touches on the motivation for the bombing, and does so in only in a general way. The rest of the speech is an attempt to rally people's spirits. That's what we've wanted in the past -- but maybe it's not what we want anymore.

(Or maybe it's not what Republican voters want anymore -- and remember, if Palin runs for president, she'll be seeking Republican votes only until more than a year from now, and only in the summer and fall of 2012, if she wins the nomination, will she be seeking the votes of anyone else. So her messages are still for GOP-base consumption only.)

Sarah Palin: "America's Enduring Strength" from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

And yes, I know -- the day after this OKC speech, President Clinton gave another speech, in Minneapolis, in which he included much more pointed remarks about the political climate. But read that speech in its entirety -- the remarks that became controversial were a relatively small portion of the text. Even in that speech, Clinton worked his way out of the fever swamp. He didn't wallow it, as Palin does.

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