In her speech earlier today, Sarah Palin seemed to be arguing that the inflamed and violent rhetoric of politicians and pundits cannot be legitimately seen as ever encouraging or provoking violence.
At least, something like that would need to be true if it were also true — as Palin states — that: “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.” If such acts truly stand entirely on their own, then it can only be because nothing — nor anyone — has meaningfully influenced the criminals who commit them. Otherwise, there is more than one cause of the acts, and thus more than one thing to blame.
The trouble with Palin’s suggestion that political speech has no meaningful influence on anyone’s actions is that almost every politician, pundit, and preacher in the world knows that she’s wrong. What a public figure says can and often does significantly influence the behavior of others.
Ironically, if speeches were powerless to influence people’s behavior, then Sarah Palin would not have given her speech today — for it is clearly an attempt to influence people’s behavior.
No one that I know of is arguing that the entire responsibility for every politically motivated shooting in this country over the past ten years or so is wholly or completely borne by the inflamed and violent rhetoric of folks like Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and many, many others. But to suggest, as Sarah Palin does, that such rhetoric has no meaningful influence at all on anyone’s behavior seems sheer bonkers.