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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 01/12/2011

Sarah Palin as provocateur

By Chris Cillizza

Sarah Palin: "America's Enduring Strength" from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's attempt to tamp down one controversy may well have started another.

In a statement -- and video (see above) -- released via Facebook this morning, Palin expressed sorrow for the victims of the Tucson shootings and defends herself against those in the media (and on the liberal left) whom she says have sought to somehow implicate her in the tragedy.

Said Palin:

"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

The use of the phrase "blood libel" -- a term that has its origins in anti-Semitic accusations about Jews using the blood of Christian children in their religious rituals -- is a loaded one and immediately became the central focus of a statement that spanned 1,141 words.

Questions about whether Palin knew what she was getting into by using the term seem to miss the mark when it comes to the approach that she has adopted in her public pronouncements since bursting on the national political scene as Republican Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate in 2008.

Palin is as much provocateur as politician at this moment. From "death panels" to "how's that hopey, changey thing working for you?" to "blood libel", Palin more often adopts the language of talk radio than of party politics. Put simply: These sorts of statements are more likely to wind up on a bumper sticker or T-shirt than in the Republican party platform.

(As Politico's Jonathan Martin wrote in a terrific look at Palin and Tucson earlier this week, she has "played a role that is part talk show personality and part political figure" since the 2008 election.)

The term "blood libel" has been kicking around the conservative end of the blogosphere for the last few days, and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds used it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this week.

Palin, more so than any national figure for the GOP, channels and amplifies the sentiments coming out of the conservative blogosphere and talk radio community.

It's why she appeals so strongly to an element of the party's base that feels that more establishment politicians are afraid to tell it like it is. It's also why she is detested by Democrats and distrusted by large numbers of independents who view her willingness to provoke as fundamentally irresponsible.

The recent history of pronouncements from Palin -- "blood libel" included -- suggest she leans more toward provocation than party leadership.

That's never been a winning strategy in the context of a presidential campaign, but there's never been a figure who straddled the divide between talk radio host/television personality and politician like Palin, or a time in modern political history when the anti-establishment fervor ran so deeply among Republican primary voters.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 12, 2011; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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