Collateral Damage

by Alexander Cockburn, January 27, 2011

It’s too soon to say of course, but it really does look as though the Tucson shooter has done Sarah Palin serious damage. A Gallup poll run at the end of last week gives her a 53% unfavorable rating, the lowest level she's sunk to in public esteem since she was first lofted to national prominence as John McCain's vice presidential pick in 2008. Only 38% now have a favorable view of the former Alaska governor.

Palin has only herself to blame. Against accusations that her bullseye campaign map targeted Democrats, including Gabrielle Giffords, she could have countered with measured expressions of sympathy for the dead and wounded, and a more in-sorrow-than-in-anger reproof for the over-hasty accusers.

Instead of which she came out with eight minutes of self-defensive whining on Facebook, and caused great annoyance to Jewish groups by filching the “blood libel” charge on which they have had copyright since the Middle Ages. Since then, she's done nothing to improve her performance, complaining that Obama had given a campaign speech at the memorial in Tucson.

Her charge was true, but the trouble is that most Americans liked Obama’s campaign speech. It was essentially the same speech that got him into the White House in the first place. While Palin was plummeting in the polls, approval for the President's Tucson performance was up in the high 70s percentile.

Before the shootings the Republicans were rearing and plunging as they burst out of the starting gate for the new Congressional session. John Boehner (dry eyed when talking about what happened in Tucson) went through a couple of cambric kerchiefs wiping the tears from his eyes in his “maiden” address as Speaker while down on the floor manly Republicans like Steve King of Iowa exulted that the blood-dimmed tides of payback were about to be loosed.

It was King, back in September, who fretted that the Republican leadership might go soft on reforming Obamacare, and that “a blood oath” of fortitude was necessary. It was King too who talked about the necessity of there being “blood on the floor” in the struggle for America’s future. Their first legislative target, Obama's health insurance bill, which passed into law last summer, was rolled out under the title, “Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” They just couldn’t get enough of blood or killing. One columnist did a search on how many bills have had the word “killing” in the title. He found that “almost no legislation in 20 years used the word.”

Then real blood splattered across the parking lot of a Tucson Safeway. The sheriff of Pima Country blamed poisonous rhetoric. Panic-stricken Republicans spent the next two weeks embarking on a fairly successful campaign to persuade the press that two-years-worth of incendiary, para-homicidal rhetoric could by definition have absolutely no measurable effect on any psychotic in America, including Loughner. Liberal pundits like Jonathan Alter obediently clicked their heels and agreed that putting targets on electoral maps was as influential in measurable consequence as sticking a soft toy on the window of a Volvo.

They may have counter-attacked with some effect in this skirmish, but even now about a third of the country still believes that violent political rhetoric helped provoke Loughner's rampage.

The Republicans have lost their ’mo, at least for a while. But efforts by their leaders to damp down the bellicosity of newly elected Tea Party types is running into the fact that the Tea Partiers have only the high volume setting on their amplifiers, just like Palin. They're like a couple having a fight at a funeral; politely sotto voce, then suddenly bursting out fortissimo with their plaints and accusations.

Meanwhile Obama is looking more chipper than he has in the whole of the last year, a unifier at last, acting presidential as he triangulates just as Bill did in ’95 and the years thereafter. Clinton and Gore “reinvented government” and Obama vows to do away with irksome regulations (like storing long form birth certificates securely) that hold America back.

Where is Monica Lewinsky now that we need her? Coming off the Tucson memorial service and the performance of the intern who may have saved Giffords’ life Slate compiled a list of Great Contributions by Interns in History. Of course it failed to include Monica Lewinsky and her almost single-handed salvation, exclusively reported here, of Social Security which Clinton was on the very edge of “reforming” before the scandal forced him to drop his plans.

Fawning Piers

Piers Morgan got whacked by the critics for being too fawning in his first outing as CNN’s replacement for Larry King. He was interviewing Oprah Winfrey. It’s true. He did fawn. It seems to come as naturally to him as to a hungry curate in Trollope buttering up a bishop. But he’s not alone. Here’s Kitty Kelley, the great, most definitely non-fawning, biographer of Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the Bush Family and the British royal family, writing in the December edition of The American Scholar:

“Shortly after my book Oprah: A Biography was published last April, one of Oprah Winfrey’s open-minded fans wrote to her website saying she wanted to read the book. Oprah’s message-board moderator hurled a thunderbolt in response: ‘This book is an unauthorized biography.’ The word unauthorized clanged on the screen like a burglar alarm. Suddenly I heard the rumble of thousands of Oprah book buyers charging out of Barnes & Noble — empty-handed.

“Days before this exchange, I had felt the chill of media disdain when my publisher began booking my promotion tour. Larry King barred the door to his CNN talk show because, he said, he didn’t want to offend Oprah. Barbara Walters did the same thing, proclaiming on The View that the only reason people wrote unauthorized biographies was to dig ‘dirt.’

“There was no room for me at Charlie Rose’s roundtable and no comfy seat next to David Letterman. The late-night comic had recently reconciled with Oprah after a 16-year rift and did not want to risk another. On my 10-city tour I made few, if any, appearances on ABC-owned-and-operated stations because most of the stations that broadcast The Oprah Winfrey Show are owned by ABC or its affiliates. No one wanted to displease the diva of daytime television.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *