Sarah Palin and Why Speaker Boehner Should Take “Killing” Out of His First Bill’s Title

by Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin on January 12, 2011

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It’s one thing to suggest that some liberal commentators went too far in blaming conservatives following this Saturday’s shooting in Arizona (as we at and many others have already done).   It is another thing entirely to claim victimhood in the discussion following the tragedy.  Sarah Palin’s January 12 facebook note reads like a sincere attempt to reach common ground following the tragedy, but intentionally or not, it includes language that will no doubt fan the flames of discord, showing how difficult it will be for both sides to truly remove attack speech from the political discourse.

In saying, “journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn” Palin has done exactly what she is counseling against.  The phrase “blood libel” could not be more incendiary for some people in that it invokes centuries old anti-semitic allegations that Jews sacrificed Christian children to use their blood in religious rites.   Whether through ignorance or malice, Palin’s choice of the phrase “blood libel” will incite rather than calm discord.

In recent days commentators of all stripes have called for greater civility in our discourse as Palin did in calling for Americans to “respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner.”  This will indeed be difficult because attack speech and violent imagery is deeply ingrained in our political discourse.   The use of metaphors of violence such as “targets,” “battlegrounds,” “bullseyes” etcetera, are part of common usage in political campaigns.  One timely question of more than symbolic value is whether  the word “Killing” will be in the title of the first substantive Bill considered by the 112th Congress.

The current title of the Bill ‘‘Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Law Act’’ was no accident and it is a perfect example of the deliberate coarseness of modern political discourse.  Even if Republican political consultant Frank Luntz expresses some regret about his role in modern politics, he takes credit for the soundbites and legislation titles that attempt to win the debate through language.  But this labeling, by design, precludes civil debate.  If the health legislation is “job killing” what is there to discuss?  If Democrats are out to kill jobs, what is an appropriate response?

If Speaker John Boehner  wants a more civil debate, he should rename this legislation and refrain from including attack language in the title of all future legislation

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