Liable for Libel

Posted on January 13, 2011


My working definition of libel is: “A published account that is untrue and does harm to a person (or entity).” In Sarah Palin’s video response to the media speculation that her, and other right-wing, rhetoric had some impact on the Gifford shooting, she uses the term blood libel. This term has a specific meaning, and others have responded to her particular use of that term. I’d like to focus on the latter word in this phrasing, the “libel.”

Palin was warning that anyone who stated, or even insinuated, that her rhetoric — for example, the rifle scope map, or her frequent use of the expression “lock and load” — had any causal implication in the Gifford shooting is treading in libelous territory. (In her world, “lock and load” only refers to the ballot box. I’m a poet and I’m afraid if someone uses those words, voting is not the first thing to come to mind.) OK, to throw around the word libel, such speculation would have to be patently untrue and it would also have to harm her reputation (and her ability to make a living).

First, there is no absolute proof either for or against the speculation, or contention, that such rhetoric can incite violence. If there’s no proof of falsity, damage cannot be done or assessed.

In her video, Palin assails the leftist press for taking issue with her rhetoric, casting herself as a victim who only wants to assert her First Amendment right to expression, however colorful. But in doing so, she says people have no right to exercise their own First Amendment right and utter their wonderment that possibly such rhetoric might have unforeseen consequences. (It also boggles my imagination that she has the cojones (as it were) to cast herself as the victim in this situation. I would think that would be reserved for the shooting victims.)

But it’s Palin’s belief that there is absolutely no connection between her rhetoric and any type of incitement to violence. I’ve emphasized belief here because there is no factual evidence either way, but I amazed by the right’s ability to present belief as fact. If a member of the right-wing believes something is so, then, by gum, it must be a fact. In the last three decades the right has used this “click-the-heels-of-your-ruby-slippers” type of approach to sell a very gullible American public some serious bills of goods.

For one, Republicans, and the right, want everyone to believe that they can be rich, and once they are rich that they should pay less taxes. But this has been patently untrue. As more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands, it becomes harder and harder to break into the club of the rich. It’s like the Republicans would like you to believe that the supply of money is endless, that we all can be wealthy. Unfortunately, this is not true. The money supply is finite. If 3% of the population is making more than $250,000 per year, that means there is a lot less of the money pie to share for the bottom 97%. Funny thing money: It sort of obeys physics: The more money you have, the more it attracts more money (c.f., gravitational pull–the larger the body, the greater the force of gravity). But Republicans are great at making that bottom 97% believe that when they strike it rich that they should not have to give more to the government. But the odds of that happening are not with the bottom 97%. And the rhetoric: How many people in that bottom 97% believed the “death tax” was going to rob their heirs of everything? Too many fat cats are laughing all the way to the bank (ah, but they own those banks, too)…

Next is the belief that trickle-down works. Give the rich more money and they’ll spend it and that will make more jobs. Such bullshit. It just doesn’t work that way. Poorer people spend a greater proportion of their income than rich people. Rich people use their money to — guess what — make more money. But these investments don’t work in the usual way. Long time ago, you (most probably a wealthy person) bought stock and it was, on the whole, a lifetime investment. One either cashed in wholly or in pieces on retirement, or possibly lived on the dividends. That was back in an age when the capital gains taxes were geared towards benefitting long-term investments. If you cashed out way back when (pre-Reagan), you paid a penalty. In those terms, investment in stock, in companies, created jobs and less stock price instability. But now, with all of the Republican-led moves to reduce capital gains taxes, the capital gains tax rates make it more common for the rich to make only short-term investments (think daytraders). Talk to any business person worth his/her salt: Short-term investments do not lend themselves to job creation or economic growth. They only lead to making a buck as quickly as possible and then taking the profits and running. With capital investment in short supply, companies have to shed jobs to keep afloat. If anything, raising capital gains taxes is pro-business and pro-jobs (pro-labor).

The last big Republican right-wing myth that I’ll tackle for the time being is that capitalism only works best if it is totally bereft of any regulation: government should not interfere at all with business, only absolutely free markets and free enterprise will save us. They believe that it is government interference that leads to economic downturns. They say it enough times and people will believe it. Well, P.T. Barnum was a shrewd observer of human behavior. At the heart of every economic downturn (recession or depression) is an overextension of credit — too many people owing too much money. As soon as a few people start calling in their loans and finding out that the loan cannot be paid has dire, spiraling consequences. In many ways, Ezra Pound was not off base in stating that the problems with modern society issued from usura, from the use of money to make money. But of course he was dead wrong on how to solve this problem. But just because his solutions were crackpot (and bigoted) does not mean the problem does not exist. Keynes is roundly and soundly derogated by the Republican right. But it was Keynes’s influence on Franklin Roosevelt that engendered the New Deal, which sought to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression, pull us out of that quagmire and ensure that such an economic (and political) collapse like that never occurs again. History was keen in proving that capitalism without regulation (completely free markets) results in a pure state of social Darwinism, where only the strong (rich) survive. In this free market philosophy, the poor are only poor because they want to be (out of stupidity, lack of ambition and lack of greed).  No regulation means the economy blows hot and cold. Regulation means regulating so that the economy does not blow too hot or too cold at any time. But the Reagan “revolution’s” prime goal is to completely repeal the New Deal (and any type of regulation). Look what that’s gotten us. No regulation also means that the strongest and biggest survives, which means that essentially all markets will move toward monopoly (where competitors cannot survive). Once a monopoly is established, the monopoly can charge the consumer whatever prices they want and also innovation withers and dies (there’s no need to get “better” and invent “better” products because there is no competition). When the Republican right says they are pro-business, they mean the huge global megacorporations, not your mom-and-pop (or family) business. It’s not coincidental that the Reagan revolution ushered in the chains and the disappearance of the independent store…

At Thanksgiving this year I livened the discussion. Everyone around the table was stating what he or she was giving thanks for. When it was my turn I said, “I’m glad Sarah Palin is not president — yet.” That got things going. I’m a cynic but I also think I’m a realist. I disagreed when people said a washed-up B-movie film star could never be president. I disagreed when people said W. could never be elected. I disagree when people say that Sarah Palin could never be elected. But when I see how language gets contorted and distorted (think again the “death tax,” or even now “blood libel”), but when I see how belief is put forth as fact, I do not hold out much hope.

But yet I am desperately hoping that, this time, I’ll be wrong. And I’ll never be so thankful to be wrong.