Capitol Idea: The Blood On Palin’s Hands

What might be the most eerie is how Gabrielle Giffords herself foretold of the attack that nearly killed her Saturday, and succeeded in killing several others in Arizona, including a 9-year-old little girl.

Giffords, nearly a year ago, warned that the murderous language and imagery that Republican Sarah Palin uses against her political adversaries would have consequences.

The 40-year-old Democrat was right, of course, although she couldn’t have imagined that one of those consequences would be a bullet in her own brain from a close-range shot in a Tucson parking lot.

To be clear, no the former Alaska governor certainly did not pull the trigger — police have charged a young man named Jared Loughner with the crime.

But Palin, who publicized a map on her website with three crosshairs targets on the state of Arizona, is just as culpable.

Those crosshairs represented Giffords, along with fellow Democratic Reps. Harry Teague and Ann Kirkpatrick. Teague and Kirkpatrick fell to defeat in the November 2010 elections.

But Giffords squeaked out a third term, leaving her as the only target left standing on Palin’s well-publicized hit list. Loughner, it seems, was simply trying to finish the job.

But back in a March 2010 TV interview about Palin’s online hit list, Giffords remarked, “The thing is, the way that she has it depicted — the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district — when people do that, they’ve got to realize that there’s consequences for that action.”

Palin’s camp, of course, already is working to distance the 2008 vice-presidential nominee from the Arizona violence. (The Palin hit list also was removed from the Internet soon after news broke about the Arizona shooting.)

But Palin can’t have it both ways. She can’t simultaneously encourage the world to “reload” and “take aim” at Giffords, and then feign shock and surprise when someone takes her too literally.

Palin, of course, is not likely to be charged in connection with the attacks, and even many elected Democrats are wary of directly linking her to the crime.

Others, however, are speaking out about the kind of violent rhetoric of the kind Palin has perpetrated, including Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat.

According to the Washington Post, “Moran said Giffords explained that, unlike in his Northern Virginia district, ‘a substantial percentage’ of her district was ‘anti-government and pro-gun’ – a potentially dangerous mix.”

The Post also reports the sherriff in Tucson himself saying that”‘When the rhetoric about hatred … about mistrust of government’ gets heated … it inflames ‘the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.'”

Time, and the ongoing investigation, will piece together specifically what role Palin’s hit list might have had in the near-assassination of a member of Congress.

But when it comes down to Palin’s decision to even put out such a hit list in the first place, and actively invite the kind of violence that we saw on Saturday, there can be but two explanations.

One is that Palin genuinely was unaware that her list would lead to the type of consequences Gifford herself once foretold, as strange as that may seem. The other, far more likely, is that Palin knew the danger inherent in such a list and chose to ignore it — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — in the pursuit of her political agenda.

In either case, the least that can come out of this tragedy is that we as Americans never again simply allow such violent rhetoric, and that Palin’s lack of judgement in this case ends whatever presidential ambitions she might have harbored.


Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington.

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