Monday 18 December 2017

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Obama rises to the challenge of Tucson

Palin's reaction was disastrous, but Obama may just have secured a second term, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

AS Barack Obama and Sarah Palin found last week, words matter. Before the Arizona massacre, Obama was perceived as cerebral, cold and disconnected from the American public; while Palin's trenchant, spirited articulation of the worries of ordinary people guaranteed her adoring crowds wherever she went -- along with the bitter enmity of the liberal left. Jared Lee Loughner's murderous rampage put pressure on both of them to show inspirational leadership. Only one rose to the occasion.

Obama's critics doubted that he would find the necessary emotional resources to articulate the country's pain, while Palin's accused her of being a hate-monger who -- along with Fox News shock jocks -- had encouraged political violence by her militaristic imagery and toxic rhetoric. There were angry denunciations of her use of words like 'crosshairs' and 'targets' in identifying electoral opportunities, although Democratic strategists use precisely the same language.

The American right has no monopoly on violent metaphors. Obama once memorably remarked on the campaign trail: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." The quote is from The Untouchables, which chronicled the success of a Chicago hero, Elliott Ness, in putting Al Capone out of business.

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