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Obama and Palin: A Tale Of Two Speakers

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The contrasts, both in style and in tone, were undeniable. Perhaps more telling though are the apparent motivations behind the two public statements made by Barack Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday, in response to the assassination attempt on the life of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Obama, speaking at the Arizona memorial service for the other victims of Saturday’s shooting, did what presidents do. Looking and sounding more presidential then he has at any other point during his tenure at the White House, Obama served as the comforter-in-chief both for the families and friends in attendance, and for the rest of us watching the nationally televised speech, still trying to make sense of it all.

He eulogized the fallen, offered the support of the nation to the wounded and to the families of those who were lost, and praised those who helped prevent any further damage as heroes. Obama also wisely took the high road in choosing not to point fingers, place blame, or otherwise politicize the tragic events in Arizona at a time more appropriately given over to reflection and grieving for those who were lost.

If anything, Obama seized the moment to urge a return to civility in the political debate, and for a more rational, less inflammatory tone of unity in the national discourse seeking to find common solutions to the complex problems facing America in tough economic times.

Whether Obama’s words continue to resonate by this time tomorrow or even next week remains an open question of course. But Obama’s speech on Wednesday transcended partisan politics. This was a president doing what all presidents during a national tragedy do, much as Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing, and yes, George W. Bush did after 9/11.

That said, in a lot of ways Obama also looked more like the rock star of the 2008 campaign than he has at any point since then. The memorial event at times seemed more like a campaign rally—there were several times when Obama’s remarks were interrupted by spontaneous eruptions of cheer—than a somber memorial service. Obama’s speech also served as a reminder of just how electric he can be as a speaker. You almost expected the crowd to start chanting “Yes, We Can” at times.

For that reason, it also reminded me again of just why I’ve become so disappointed with his presidency at times. Aside from the way he has all too often met the punches of his Republican detractors by opening up a bi-partisan can of compromise on them, Obama has also seemed detached from the populist movement that helped elect him. Obama is the sort of speaker who, at his best, can galvanize people from all walks of life into action. Which is exactly why I’d like to see him do a lot more speaking.

Sarah Palin’s remarks on the other hand, have left me somewhat dumbstruck.

Made on a professionally produced seven minute video, and released — incredibly—on the same day as the memorial, Palin’s remarks start on mostly a proper note. She offers a mix of outrage over the tragedy and support for the families of the victims. To her credit, Palin does do that much—well, for about one of the seven-plus minutes of her presentation, anyway. From there, she also rightly defends the principles of freedom of speech, and the all-American contact sport of a vigorous, passionate political debate.

Incredibly, she then turns her remarks completely upside down and inside out by lashing out at those who would exercise the rights of others to do exactly the same—that is, challenge or otherwise disagree—by daring to criticize, guess who? If you guessed Sarah Palin, you win the Dancing With The Stars DVD.

The point where this crosses the line from being merely laughable, to somewhat disturbing, is when she invokes the words “blood libel”—a none too thinly veiled anti-Semitic reference to historically made comments about Jews killing Christian children for blood sacrifice.

Seriously, this woman wants to be president?

Aside from this, the “What About Me?” tone of her remarks come across as a pathetic attempt to turn what should have been a day of mourning into a pity party for the “real victim”—which would of course be Sarah Palin. This is simply astonishing, particularly coming from such a national political figure.

You can debate whether accusations from the left pointing blame for the Arizona shootings towards the inflammatory rhetoric of folks like Palin, Sharon Angle, and Glenn Beck is fair or not. In truth, a lot of that probably isn’t either. But in turning the tragedy back towards herself, rather than the real, proper victims, Palin comes off as being just pathetically shameless.

I think a lot of us already knew in our hearts that Sarah Palin was a deeply narcissistic personality who is really more interested in the sort of celebrity that comes with shooting deer—and not very well, I might add—on her reality show on cable TV, than in the deeper sort of thought and commitment required of any real public servant.

But her performance on Wednesday, even as Gabrielle Giffords fought for her life in an Arizona hospital was embarrassing at best, and self-serving at worst.

In a word, incredible.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Palin gets a lot of flack for not being “book smart” Dan, but she’s no dummy. I think she knew exactly who she was talking to.


  • Dan

    Never heard the term “blood libel” used in any other context Glen?

    It seems all too common that obsessive Palin haters are tripped up by their own ignorance. Once the attack makes it to the group think level there is no turning back.

  • Clavos

    Keep your eyes on the Hermanator, guys.

    You may laugh at me now, but remember I introduced Marco Rubio on these pages back in September of 09, long before anyone knew about HIM.

  • Handy, with a name like Huntsman he might want to wait until the storm’s died down a bit before expressing any interest in the post… 😉

  • No apologies needed Baronius…I’m actually liking this direction. Keep it goin’ I say…


  • Anyone think Giuliani might take another crack at it? Even though he got laughed off the hustings last time?

  • Political analyst John Heilemann has mentioned Jon Huntsman [former gov of Utah, currently ambassador to China] as a GOP dark horse. I would think Mike Pence could make a creditable run also.

  • Baronius

    Yeah, sorry, Glen. I was craving some politics politics. Between Assange and Loughner, I actually look forward to another two-year presidential campaign. Come on, press! Go interview some Iowans!

  • This is turning into a very interesting discussion. Its strayed pretty far from my original article…but interesting nonetheless.


  • Clavos

    But perhaps someone will come out of left field again…

    Hmm. If they’re gonna be running for the Republican candidacy, they had better be coming out of right (or at least center) field.

    Just sayin…

  • Baronius

    Usually in the GOP primaries, you’ll see a battle in the Moderate Bracket and a battle in the Conservative Bracket, then they’ll square off. It might not be quite so chronological but it’s a pattern. This past election, McCain was playing up his foreign-policy conservatism; Romney, his fiscal conservatism; Huckabee, his social conservatism. The usual pattern didn’t hold because no one could figure out which one was moderate or conservative.

    If the usual dynamics occur, and those 9 are the only ones running, I think you’d see Huckabee, Palin, and Gingrich positioning themselves as the new Reagan, and Romney, Bush, and Barbour playing up their broadbased-proven-leader angle. Pawlenty, Daniels, and Thune are more unknown, giving them the opportunity to choose which conference has the weakest competition. The problem for those three is that it’s tough to be the proven mainstreamer if you’re not well-known, and the competition is always more fragmented among the stalwart conservative candidates.

  • Look for Gary Johnson and possibly Ron Paul in the primary debates anyway, and expect more people to pay attention to their challenges to the majority Republican view, especially if they both run.

    Daniel Larison in the American Conservative projects, “Instead of the usual 7 or 8-against-1 odds that prevailed during the Republican primary debates in 2007 and 2008, Johnson and Paul would be a ready-made pair of allies criticizing the other candidates and presenting their alternatives [defending civil liberties, arguing against unnecessary wars, and presenting an uncompromising challenge to Republican enabling of government profligacy and debt]in turn.”

  • Huckabee would also find himself answering questions about the guy whose release he signed on that killed all those cops in Washington state…so I doubt its him. And it’ll be a long time before America elects another Bush.

    Even though a lot of the base (evangelicals mainly) doesn’t trust him, I think Romney’s gonna be the guy by default. The tried and true snakeoil salesman seems to work every time for the GOP.


  • Harumph.

    Huckabee’s a nutcase.

    There are only 7 Americans who can spell Pawlenty, and Pawlenty may not be one of them. Forget him.

    Gingrich is too much of a liability, as is Jeb (or rather his name is).

    I don’t see Bobby Jindal in that list of odds, or Michael Steele. Interesting. Jindal, if he has any such aspirations, has probably decided to sit it out and see what 2016 looks like. Steele may also be a liability.

    Romney and Palin are probably the only viable choices at this point, and I don’t fancy either of their chances against Obama.

    But perhaps someone will come out of left field again. At this point four years ago, I don’t think anyone realistically expected McCain to win the nomination.

  • Baronius

    El B – I can’t testify to the accuracy of the numbers, but I just found these odds online:

    Romney 5/2
    Pawlenty 7/1
    Huckabee 7/1
    Daniels 9/1
    Palin 11/1
    Gingrich 11/1
    Thune 15/1
    Jeb Bush 15/1
    Barbour 20/1
    Field 15/1

  • Clav, “minefield” — “minefield?” How dare you use such a word, sir.

    As an act of contrition, I recommend that you immediately destroy any knives (including eating utensils) and firearms in your possession and as penance that you read, aloud on a street corner, from some of President Obama’s writing — perhaps one of his masterpieces published by the Harvard Law Review.


  • Clavos

    Careful, Dan. That whole military imagery controversy is nothing but a huge minefield…

  • Glen, what in the name of Gaia Most Holy is humorous in pointing out the incendiary nature of comments using language such as that for which the right is getting roasted? I thought that perhaps an act of contrition and a promise to go and sin no more might result; I guess not. You will doubtless be held personally responsible if some “far-right fringe” “nutcase” such as one of Sarah Palin’s supporters takes a “shot” at President Obama. Gosh Darn!


  • Mark

    geeze, Glen

    can’t you recognize profundity when you see it?

  • I like your sense of humor, Dan. That was humor…right?


  • Comment # 15 claims that “I think Palin may have just finally fatally shot herself in the foot with this one.” It continues, “her base of tea party nutcases. . . .” Comment # 17 refers to the “best shot against Obama . . . .” Comment #17 speaks of “far-right fringe types like Palin, etc. ” (emphasis added in all quotations)

    Dear me! Such violent rhetoric; Shameful! It must be possible to praise his recent speech without “lashing out” by using the same sort of violent, over the top rhetoric he so warmly disparaged to target people from the other side of the political spectrum. Sigh, I guess not.


  • I agree with you Arch (about Romney, that is).


  • Arch Conservative

    I didn’t watch the pep rally aka “memorial service” long enough to make it to Obama’s speech. The atmosphere was creepy and I kept waiting for the JV quarterback to com tearing threw some banner talking about how “we’re gonna take state.”

    If my nine year old girl was shot and killed with some lunatic I know I wouldn’t want “rock stars” speaking at her memorial service. The whole thing was a farce.

    Has it ever occured to anyone that Palin’s public persona is one of the greatest political decoys of all time? The left has been drooling all over itself each time her name is mentioned while Romney, the one who will most likely end up the GOP nominee, has been flying under the radar since the day he bowed out last time. if Romney can make it through the Gauntlet that is the GOP primary, I like his chances against Obama.

  • El Bicho

    Has anyone posted odds? I would bet against Romney

  • Quick point of clarification on my last comment…when I refer to Romney as “just centrist enough,” I only mean that when compared to the other far-right fringe types like Palin, etc.


  • While Romney’s flip-flopping on the issues may be seen as potentially problematic, and his Mormonism may not sit well with republican evangelicals, I think he still gets the nod by default. He’s just centrist enough to grab some moderates disillusioned by Obama, and the GOP also has a history of going with whomever is perceived to be the next in line (McCain, Dole) rather than embracing a relatively fresh new face.

    Of all the potential candidates, the slickest guy is still going to have the best shot against Obama. Mitt Romney is that guy.


  • Costello

    will the base embrace Romney when they didn’t four years ago? I don’t see how he improved his negatives. I would guess they grab a new governor from the class of ’10 who are proven winners with limited records

  • I think Palin may have just finally fatally shot herself in the foot with this one.

    For someone who is presumably interested in becoming our next president, she did very little to reach out to anyone beyond her base of tea party nutcases, and also did herself no favors in turning the discussion back upon herself rather than the actual victims.

    I can’t see the old corporate white guys club that really run the Republican party wanting to get anywhere near her in 2012. Which is why I fully expect them to go the more tried and true route of the slick, used car salesman. Looks like it’s gonna’ be Obama and Romney on 2012.


  • Some conservatives [even Beck, apparently] have praised Obama’s speech, if not effusively. We shouldn’t be surprised that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction was cynical and hostile. Praise for the president is not likely to ever voluntarily pass his lips on any issue.

  • Boeke

    As for all these people who say they “support the victims”, does that mean they’re willing to chip in to pay their hospital and doctor bills?

    Since we do not have Universal Healthcare in the USA, are they willing to support UHC in the future so that the innocent victims of overheated political incitement have some little bit of recourse?

    Or are the victims to be thrown to the merciless dogs of the US monopolistic Health Insurance Industry to possibly die untreated in the gutter.

    Will we allow a little time to pass to allow us to wallow in our magnanimous feelings of sorrow before we let them fade from the headlines and let their fates become of no concern to us?

    Personally, I don’t trust the crocodile tears of any of these politicians, accomplished actors and liars all. None. And IMO anyone who falls for it is willfully deceiving themselves.

  • Jerry

    I haven’t studied psychology, but I know a narcissist when I see one. Whether being able to apologize indicates that a person isn’t narcissistic I know not – I didn’t care much for Bush either.

    You don’t know the first thing about me and it is fruitless to categorically defend myself against your assumptions. You assume correctly that I’m conservative but I won’t try to change what you are entirely certain of concerning those who don’t entirely agree with you about – carry on my friend.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And for Jerry –

    Ever work with someone with narcissistic personality disorder? I have…and you know what? They’re usually very intelligent and never, ever apologize for anything. I hope for your sake you never have to work with such a person, because the very first time you tell them they’ve done something the least bit wrong you become their enemy. They see you as a threat and they may very well try to find a way to end your career to get you out of their way. I was lucky…the narcissist was a bit too obvious and it all came back on him as a result.

    We’ve heard President Obama apologize for his failings on more than one occasion – and that tells me he’s not narcissistic. Have we heard Palin apologize for anything?


    I remember watching a debate between Kerry and Dubya, and Kerry asked Bush what he thinks he did wrong in his first term, what he could have done better.

    Bush didn’t answer, didn’t give a single example. What Bush (and most of the Right) didn’t understand is that the ability to publicly admit error is something that is respected among the Left. You see it time and time again among the Left’s politicians and pundits…and very rarely among the Right’s politicians and pundits.

    And you know what? If you’re a conservative, You’ll Just Know that what I’ve said is all stuff and nonsense…no matter how very true it is.

  • Jerry

    That’s right. The right is evil, wicked and hateful, waiting for any opportunity to vilify Obama…sounds familiar.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Are we really surprised?

    President Obama gave a great speech meant to help heal the nation, to bring us closer, to speak out against ‘words that wound’ and replace them with ‘words that heal’. His speech was easily as apolitical as any that we’ve heard in the past fifty years.

    And what to the conservatives do? They vilify him for it. And if Obama had given no speech at all, they would have pilloried him for not stepping up when the country needed him. In other words, it really didn’t matter what Obama did – the Right would vilify him for it anyway.

    Are we really surprised? Not anymore.

  • Jerry

    Ideally death should be a private matter, but obviously it wasn’t in this case, so we need to deal with it and learn from it. I do agree that they should just keep their speeches to a minimum, but again, that is an ideal as well.

  • I mean, come on, a rock star at a memorial ceremony?? That’s nauseating. If that was Obama’s intention, he should be incredibly ashamed of himself.

  • Honestly, I think both are shameful. The death of a person is a private, personal matter and a private, personal grief. It shouldn’t be politicized whatsoever. Neither Obama nor Palin should have given a speech, nor do anything of a public nature whatsoever. A simple “it’s a great tragedy,” or a letter of condolence would have done fine. But to make a speech of it? That’s unnecessary politicizing. Jeez!

  • Jerry

    I didn’t hear Palin’s speech and only part of Obama’s. What I did hear of his was what I would expect from any president, but nothing that would send tingles up my leg.

    Concerning Palin, I’m willing to accept your assessment but find it difficult to understand how so many people can’t see that when it comes to narcissism, Palin has nothing on Mr. Obama.

    It is the same dynamic at work with this political rhetoric issue. It is just expected that left wing radicalism is OK – spiking trees, burning flags, suing gun makers and oil companies are all “good” forms of free speech, but the tea party is villified for criticizing gov’t spending and Obamacare, then blamed for inflaming a schizophrenic to commit murder.

  • Costello

    Nice speech by Obama but not sure it will have any lasting effects, but time will tell.

    I feel sorry for Palin because she is surrounded by some terrible people, like the leeches who drained Tyson’s bank account as he was spiraling. Did no one think releasing the video on the day of the funeral was a bad idea? I had never heard the term “blood libel” before, but could anyone who had not of known the anti-Semitic connotation? Hope she has no presidential aspirations.

  • Obama’s speech was very moving, even though the pep-rally atmospherics were a little weird [not his fault].

    The speech at least came close to giving real meaning to all the 24-hour bloviating and hysteria of the news coverage since Saturday.

  • Yes, she is.

  • Yeah, she’s pretty whack.