Monday, January 10, 2011

Off Target

The US is reeling from the shooting to death of six people in an assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona over the weekend.  And, predictably enough, the tragedy has spilled over into the political arena, mainly because Giffords was one of 20 congress people targeted by Sarah Palin for removal from office in a campaign ad now made famous for its use of symbols that look like gun-sight crosshairs.  The title of the ad is “It’s time to take a stand.”

For the record, I don’t think we can assume that the shooter in Arizona was influenced by Sarah Palin.  Maybe evidence will surface to show he was.  Maybe it won’t.  In any case, it’s clear that he was unhinged and perfectly capable of goading himself into carrying out an act of incredible violence.  Still, I’m not too unhappy that Palin finds herself in the hot seat over the rhetoric she has used in the past, such as telling her followers “Don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!” 

But I do think both sides may be reading too much into some of the symbolism she has employed.  In particular, the whole debate over the exact nature of the symbols used on the “take a stand” map is ridiculous, especially the PR spin the Palin camp is using to explain the symbols used to mark the 20 politicians selected for removal.  They are claiming that the symbols can’t be the crosshairs of a gun sight – as many people have interpreted them, including Representative Giffords herself earlier -- because the vertical and horizontal lines extend beyond the circle, which would not be possible in the case of real gun sights.  Instead, Palin’s supporters claim, they are merely “surveyor’s symbols”

These folks would have us believe that for anyone looking at the map -- let’s say a Palin supporter who has probably gone on many more hunting trips than surveying expeditions – the symbols would jump off the page at them as surveyor benchmarks. 

“Yep,” they’d say to themselves. “Sarah’s indicated the exact location of these congress people I’m supposed to take a stand against.”  And that’s only natural given Palin’s well-known use of topographical and surveying rhetoric in her speeches and tweets. 

Give me a break.  I think the intention of the symbols was clear.  And to be fair, Democrats have done something similar, using “bullseye” symbols to indicate election races they wanted to target.  Of course the symbols were meant to be crosshairs.  Probably the graphics people creating the ad either did a poor job of drawing the crosshairs (maybe not being of the hunting set themselves), or for convenience’s sake they used the handiest computer graphics symbol they could find that looked anything like crosshairs.  And that happened to be a surveyor’s benchmark symbol -- close enough for most people (other than certain nick-picky marksmen) to understand the map's meaning as putting certain politicians in Palin’s sights.  Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

And not to mention the fact that Palin herself didn’t somehow get the memo.  Otherwise, the tweet she posted the day after November’s midterm election (crowing about her success in removing most of the congress people targeted on the map) would have looked something like this: 

"Remember months ago the “surveyors” symbols used 2 benchmark the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of the 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)” 

Instead, she used the word “bullseye”. Is Palin herself one of those people who know so little about hunting rifles that they mistake a surveyor’s mark for crosshairs?  I tend to think the idea that she is steeped in hunting culture is a sham anyway.  She needed five shots to bring down a caribou, for goodness sake. 

If Palin’s supporters continue to trip over themselves to explain that the use of a symbol with crosshairs extending beyond a circle was intentional (and therefore not meant to represent a real gun sight), some people might start taking them at their word.  After all, there is another symbol that perfectly matches those used on the map and at the same time makes more sense than surveyors’ symbols in a political context.  I’m taking about the “Celtic cross” unfortunately used by some neo-Nazi groups.  I don’t think for a moment that’s what Palin’s people intended.  But if they keep denying the obvious use of “gun sights” on their map, they are setting themselves up for even uglier accusations.  I’m just saying.  

Hoping for the best for Rep. Giffords and everyone else touched by this madness.

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