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Soon after Jared Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 other people in Tucson, Ariz., fingers were being pointed at Sarah Palin, thanks to the election map Palin posted last year with what appeared to be crosshairs superimposed on 20 Democrat-held congressional seats, including Giffords'. Some liberals say Palin's gun-centric imagery helped create a toxic atmosphere in which people like Loughner view assassination as a legitimate solution. As these critics note, Giffords herself warned last March that political ads like the "crosshairs" map have "consequences." Is it fair to implicate Palin in the shooting? (Watch The Week's Sunday Talk Show Briefing on the politics of the attack)
Palin needs to own up: "No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder," says Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic. But she should take some responsibility for her "rhetorical extremism," the likes of which "can and has led to violence and murder." Moreover, it's "deeply relevant" to seek out the true motives of political violence, and the fact is that Palin put Giffords in her crosshairs and urged her followers to "reload."
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Let's stop this "blame game": Palin's "use of the crosshairs was dumb," but so is liberals' use of her "excessive language and symbols" to enact a "sickening ritual of guilt by association," says Howard Kurtz in The Daily Beast. Journalists use military metaphors to describe politics all the time, and nobody accuses us of "trying to incite violence." Let's face it: "This isn't about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life."
Palin is guilty of "deeply stupid" politics: There is no persuasive argument that Palin's crosshairs map inspired Loughner, says David Weigel in Slate. Still, even after Giffords "had specifically raised her concerns about the target map," Palin kept on using it and telling supporters to "reload." Only now is Palin's spokeswoman "ludicrously spinning the target map" as a set of harmless "surveyor's symbols." As the former Alaska governor is finding out, there's a reason why politicians leave "war and gun metaphors" to pundits and consultants.