I should like to make a few remarks about the political landscape in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings and Obama's speech. Those of you who have completely given up on the American political process and consider me a sell-out for even thinking about such things are invited to spend a few happy hours with THE HOLY FAMILY or ANTI-DUHRING.
Objectively speaking, the shootings have no deep political meaning or significance whatsoever, Sarah Palin's bullseye political map notwithstanding. A cursory reading of Loughner's on-line musings about grammar and literacy and syllogistic logic reveal him pretty clearly to be your run of the mill paranoid schizophrenic. He could as easily have chosen to shoot John Boehner for using a tanning machine not explicitly mandated by the Constitution. But events conspired, in the way they sometimes do, to transform this into a moment of truth for both Palin and Obama. Palin failed the test. Obama met it.
Palin first. Many commentators have remarked on her aggressive embrace of the role of victim, in ways that are both infuriating and deeply resonant with her fans. This was a moment when she might have risen above that self-marginalization, and she flubbed it big time. I am as convinced as I can be about anything in politics that she had not the foggiest idea what "blood libel" means. She and her writers picked the phrase up from the loonier reaches of the right blogosphere, and latched onto it because it had a nice ring to it. The result was a speech so completely out of synch with the spirit of the moment, so utterly tone deaf, as to reveal her once and for all as not ready for prime time. So far as presidential politics are concerned, she is toast. She still has the ability to create chaos in the Republican ranks, but she may not even make it to the Iowa caucuses.
Obama, on the other hand, rose to the moment splendidly. His speech was neither profound nor ideologically significant. Its message was, if the truth be told, banal. But it was absolutely pitch perfect. If anyone thinks that is easy to achieve, try it some time. He was also lucky, and in politics that is often essential. There was no logical reason why Representative Giffords should have opened her eyes for the first time just before he was scheduled to speak. Indeed, judging from what the doctors said, it is a miracle she is doing as well as is she is. But there it was -- a punch line from heaven.
The timing of the event is also extremely significant. The Republicans, after recovering from the swearing-in fiasco, which was, after all, very much inside baseball as far as the country as a whole was concerned, were all cranked up to pass a symbolic House repeal of Obamacare as a thumb in his eye going into the State of the Union Address. Instead, they were virtually forced to suspend business for a week and join hands to sing Kumbaya.
I think this terrible event, combined with the extraordinary flood of Lame Duck Session legislation, has more or less permanently stalled the Republicans' momentum. As I said, Obama is lucky, but successful politicians seize on such fortunate moments and turn them to their advantage. Obama has done so. Palin did not.