In her song “American Dream”, country music artist Lucinda Williams laments over and over again that, “…everything is wrong.” While the song’s focus is on a different type of tragedy, its chorus could just as easily apply to Sarah Palin’s latest attempt to respond to the tragedy in Tucson. After watching the video response she issued earlier today, as a professional communicator, I am dismayed. It’s wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. But I’ll focus on the three most glaring reasons.
#1 – Timing
First, for someone so adept at communicating her message during the Presidential campaign, she has totally missed the boat with this one. Aside from a short Tweet offering condolences and an email exchange with Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck, Palin didn’t issue a full response for five days — an eternity in the world of politics. For me, this is too little, too late, and totally inadequate.
#2 – Delivery
Second, Twitter and email are not sufficient substitutes for personal engagement at a time of national tragedy. Had Palin responded personally (even via video) in the hours immediately following the shooting, she would have had the opportunity to transcend politics by communicating her true feelings and expressing empathy for the victims. Seeing in her eyes the pain she shares with the nation, the victims and their families would likely have silenced even her harshest critics, even for a short time.
#3 – Message
Simply put, the focus of her response is off base. However justified she may feel as the result of the barrage of attacks she has endured, her response only serves to reinforce critics’ belief that she is more interested in politics and personal gain than people. By focusing on blame, Palin has missed a valuable opportunity to rise above the politics of the moment and cast herself in a more thoughtful, and dare I say, potentially Presidential light. Had she stopped after the first 60 seconds or so of her video response, she would have been successful in conveying the right message and tone.
Yet she continued for another six minutes, shifting focus to an indictment of those who have tried to hold her partly responsible for the shooting. Whether she personally believes it or not, her message may have been more well received if she had acknowledged, even on the smallest of levels, that her rhetoric or imagery MAY have, unintentionally, inflamed the current political environment. Accepting responsibility for her words and acknowledging that those words can have an impact on the actions of others, whether intentional or not, would demonstrate that she understands her role as a leader on the national scene. Perhaps she has not yet figured out that the old idiom, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is wrong too.