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January 12th, 2011
04:34 PM ET

My Take: Sarah Palin's bogus persecution complex

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Just when you thought American political rhetoric couldn't get any more toxic, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is taking us to a new low, casting herself on her Facebook page not just as a victim of the liberal media elite but as a victim of "blood libel."

For those who do not know - and I can only pray that Palin is among them - "blood libel” refers to the anti-semitic myth that Jews were in the business of murdering Christians (often children) and then ritually drinking their blood - a myth that led over the years to the death of tens of thousands of innocent Jews.

So it should not be surprising that Jewish leaders (Alan Dershowitz notwithstanding) are uniting to denounce Palin's foolish and inflammatory remarks. The Anti-Defamation League’s response was measured—timid, even—defending Palin against accusations that she was somehow to blame for the tragedy yet wishing that she “had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel’” because that term is “so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”

The dovish Jewish group J-Street did more than wish, however. Its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, assuming that she was innocent of the history of the term, called for her to retract her statement and apologize:

We hope Governor Palin will recognize, when it is brought to her attention,that the term “blood libel” brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds. When Governor Palin learns that many Jews are pained by and take offense at the use of the term, we are sure that she will choose to retract her comment, apologize and make a less inflammatory choice of words.

You don’t have to be Jewish, of course, to be offended by Palin’s latest remarks, or by Glenn Harlan Reynolds' Wall Street Journal opinion piece on “The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel.” But you do need to know something about religious history. And unfortunately, most U.S. citizens, and many American politicians, exhibit a shocking degree of religious illiteracy.

Governor Palin describes herself as a Christian. Part of being a Christian is confessing your sins, or, to put it in less pious terms, admitting your mistakes. And it is almost always a mistake for Christians to liken their supposed persecution to the persecution of Jews.

But trumped-up victimization is popular nowadays, as anyone who subscribes to Palin's tweets or visits her Facebook page can attest. And apparently in this moment of national tragedy we are supposed to be paying attention not to the real victims of this tragedy–including a Jewish congresswoman now lying in a hospital bed in Tucson–but to a pretend victim standing comfortably in front of a videocam in Alaska.

I know moments like this one are supposed to be apolitical. As any politician knows, however, they are not. And the tragedy in Tucson presented a palpable political opportunity to Governor Palin.

In the aftermath of the shootings,she could have taken a step back, drawn a deep breath, and admitted that her decision to use crosshairs on her now infamous map targeting 20 Democrats was not particularly wise. Without admitting any responsibility for the shootings, she could have shown some regret, expressed some remorse. 

She could have repented of whatever she had done to make our political rhetoric so poisonous, and vowed to stick to the issues going forward rather than to personal attacks.

But Sarah Palin is now as much an icon as she is a human being, a Tea Party darling trapped inside a political brand not entirely of her own making. She is the Mama Grizzly who said, "Don't retreat, instead - reload." So instead of retreating she reloaded, casting herself as a persecuted Jew.

Back in March, speaking of Palin’s decision to put her district on her crosshairs map, Rep. Giffords said, “when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.” The same goes for Palin's latest decision. There are consequences to that action too.

For future historians who want to find the moment when Sarah Palin chose life as a culture warrior over life as a legitimate contender for White House, this moment is likely to be it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Culture wars • Judaism • Politics • Sarah Palin • Uncategorized

soundoff (146 Responses)
  1. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    Why is anyone, yes even me, talking about this stunned b!tch?

    October 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  2. Cikal

    He finally fuirge it out. Before he selected Palin as his running mate, his campaign was going nowhere. After her selection he even took the lead for the first time. Palin's rallies drew thousands and even tens of thousands of people who were willing to stand in line, and wait for hours to see her.

    October 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  3. willegge

    Mr. Prothero, I feel sorry for the students that are under the sound of your voice. Religion Scholar? How sad that you have been given such a place of influence, yet you being so void of truth and light. It is obvious you have put your self in the place to cast judgment on Sarah Palin, her character, her faith, her sincerity in defending those that were linked by people like you without a speck of evidence, to a vile and murderous act. Jesus said, judge not, lest you be judged". Who knows, you may have the same opportunity someday as Sarah Palin to be accused falsely of such a horrendous charge. It is obvious to me and any clear minded person who reads what you say in this article, and read what Sarah Palin said in her last two statements, that they are a world apart. Yours is obviously unchristian filled with contempt and arrogance, and self deception. Sarah Palin"s on the other hand is very Christian, committing her future ,and peoples view of her to .Providence, it was humble, sincere, and drenching with truth. She demonstrated true faith in Christ, you demonstrated your need of Him.

    January 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  4. Kermit

    I am so sick of Sarah Palin. Could I go somewhere and buy a can of Raid and spray her away? Nope, she is here to stay. Today I read "They can't shut me up." Lady, I don't think crazy glue used as lip balm would shut you up.

    I feel what she she said regarding "blood libel" and other comments took away from the Arizona tragedy. I don't think she had the right to speak at all about it, other than to offer her prayers and condolences.

    I'm a woman, and if this female gets too close to the White House, I'm running for Canada–seriously. I cannot imagine the American People would be dense enough to elect her, but I put NOTHING past them as they elected G.W. twice. Twice. Once did not give them a clue??

    I am ashamed of the legacy we are leaving our children. I like Obama, but I fear he won't get a 2nd term due to all the time he had to spend cleaning up the mess made by the previous occupant. The Man does what he says he will do, and does it with dignity.

    I do not know how to put all this senseless violence into perspective. All I know to do is pray. And ask God for forgiveness for what we have allowed to become "this great country."

    January 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  5. Scottro72

    Wow..CNN publishing another anti-Sarah Palin Op-Ed piece. How un-surprising.

    January 17, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  6. Desperately Seeking Objectivity

    I find the media obsession with Sarah Palin to be more interesting than Sarah Palin herself. It seems like every other day the "Ticker" on CNN has a reference to Sarah Palin. Most typically with negative spin. The Ticker headline as I write this: "Republican Defends Palin Blast" is a case in point. Note that Palin's remarks are characterized as a "Blast". Earlier in the week it was "Palin Lashes Out...". Does anyone else notice the tone here? On NPR, the phrase was "Sarah Palin responded...", which I consider more factual and less pejorative. If you don't like Sarah Palin (and it would seem that many of the folks writing here do not), perhaps you fail to notice this constant media barrage, because it echoes your sentiments. If you think that Sarah Palin is an idiot, an incessant stream of negative press might be perceived as objective journalism. Fair enough. But watch carefully the mainstream media "whack a mole" reaction to the next Republican politician who comes to prominence.

    The author claims that Sarah Palin has a "bogus persecution complex." Not from where I sit. You don't have to like her to see how the media loves to disparage her. On the other hand, if you hate her, you are unlikely to notice.

    The undeniable fact in all this is that the media made the terrible Arizona shooting to be about Sarah Palin. Much as they now want to blame her for making it "about her", that much is completely their fault.

    January 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  7. Eric G

    Please let this woman win the GOP nod for the White House. I do not think we have hit bottom yet. I want to see just how far we will allow ourselves to decend into stupidity before we have had enough. Please, more religion! More rhetoric!

    January 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  8. edward

    Those who claim Palin is a narcissist. Have to think that we all have a bit of narcissism, if we're honest about it. Afterall, isn't that why we'll writing our opinions on this blog? As if our opinions really make a difference? Although it is good therapy for what frustrates us. It's a positive outlet that avoids the need for violence. That's why I'll defend Palin or anyone else who wants to express their political views. Everyone preaches tolerance. But I've viewed very few people practicing what they preach!! Violence is an individual's choice. Not the rheortic that comes with living in a politically diverse republic.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  9. edward

    I'm amazed how people can see the 'splinter' faults of Sarah Palin, and Fox. But fail to see the 'board' in their own network and prejudices. Just because Palin has political opinions different from others, the others think that their opinion is superior. News Flash!! It's NOT!!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Mark from Middle River

    No Timmy. Stephen's articles have a ax to grind with, pretty much any established movement or religion. Try not to be trollish and start a flame war. I am content to let Stephen's articles stand on their own to show him being generally out of touch with the world.

    Stephen is just another intellectual that would have as much disdain for you, me or anyone that is not as as knowledgeable in his area as he is. We have members of the Jewish faith that have posted that they did not know what blood libel was so he wants to label it as bogus when Sarah Palin chooses to defend herself.

    Trust in that its pure elitism. With Stephen, Palin is just a woman that forgot her place in society. Not because she is a woman but because she got her degree outside of the Ivory League which means that she obtained nothing in his eyes. So how dare she attempt to defend herself or to attempt to gain higher office.

    Just keep looking for the "My Take" articles and you will see this theme sadly over and over again.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Dagonet

      Sarah Palin's problem is that she knows exactly what her place in society is. But, hard as it may be to believe, we don't despise her simply because she's trailer trash, which after all isn't her fault. We despise her because trailer trash is all that she wants to be. She has never shown the slightest interest in becoming more than the ignorant, dogmatic, callously self-absorbed talking head that keeps popping up everywhere we look.

      A true leader inspires people to become something more and something better than what they are. Sarah Palin is the opposite: she makes her supporters less than what they are. Less curious about the world around them. Less willing to listen to the opinions and arguments of others. Less able to interact with the world in ways that don't involve fear and belligerence. Less able to live in, let alone create, the more perfect union our founders wanted America to be.

      January 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Le Timmy

    Stephen P no doubt aligns himself with the GayLiberation Movement.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  12. RightTurnClyde

    They need to rename this BLOG from "Belief" to Election 2012 .. it's all politics and nothing about God or faith or prayer. I don't use the term nor affiliate with a religion. This BLOG has not been about Belief in a LONG time. Not about faith.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    NL – If you remember the Star Wars story it was Vader/Anakin that was the one foretold to bring balance to the force ......and by throwing the Emperor down the reactor chamber ....

    Which means that G.W. Bush was really a hero 🙂

    January 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • NL

      Well, there's hope he may become a hero before he dies, but I guess the parallel would have him leave the "Dark Side" first. 😉

      Maybe he could become a Carter-like envoy after that instead of just hiding under a rock like he has since Obama took office.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Remember when they all hated Reagan ,.....

      Now all these years later you have Nancy Pelosi giving the dedication speech to his statue in Washington.

      Such honor was not supposed to happen in my lifetime. Thats in less than 30 years.

      I give GW Bush ..about 10 years ... they have already have stopped blaming him for every bad thing that happens.

      Such as this sad event.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • NL

      Mark-
      I don't remember Reagan being hated nearly as much. His economics, yes, but not the man personally. Then again I think the hate factor has been ramping up a lot since those days. Palin deflects much of the lingering democratic outrage, so I gotta give GW more time, or the nation's suffering at least one even worse president (and Obama's not it ), before more people start to see him as having been a better leader. Maybe, if Sarah were to be elected...

      January 14, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  14. KngovDaWorld

    Sarah Palin is perhaps the biggest imbecile that has ever walked the earth....with the exception of Rush Limp Baugh of course....and to think.....she could have been one step away from being President if things had worked out for the mindless right....WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY, HAVE PEOPLE REALLY LOST THEIR MINDS

    January 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • NL

      Sadly, I think there are plenty of imbeciles of her caliber out there, she just happens to be the luckiest.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  15. Adam2

    All these comments by Mr. Prothero define the one-dimensional character of Sara Pain.
    She is a disgrace to America.
    Adam of CA.

    January 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Akbird

      Ohh Mrs. Palin… what a skid mark you are leaving on American potcliis. Thank you so much for being the poster child of the true Republican “maverick”. I think the next step for this saga is the Jerry Springer Show: “From the Trailer Park to White House Contention and Back Again: What A Long Strange Tripp.”

      October 8, 2012 at 6:56 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.