Only a few hours had passed Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson when media outlets began asking the question “Is Sarah Palin responsible?” [i]

The Media has "targeted" Palin, not the other way around

Last March, the former Alaska governor posted a map on her Facebook page with crosshair targets representing Democratic lawmakers she was “targeting” for defeat after they voted for President Obama’s health care plan. One of them was U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Palin, who touts her caribou-hunting heritage, also tweeted, “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!”

Jesse Kelly, Giffords’s Republican opponent in the 2010 mid-term elections, similarly employed guns in a campaign event. He staged an event in July asking supporters to “get on target” and “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office” — all while shooting “a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Hyperbole has always had a place in public debate. It has been used in political spheres since civic discourse began. We also use “threatening” and “violent” rhetoric in sports: “We’re going to kill such-and-such a team.”

Jesse Kelly and Sarah Palin used hyperbole as a literary style in their messages just like all politicians do. These literary styles are an appropriate form of communication. The words were never intended to harm anyone or inspire violence.  Both Governor Palin and Jesse Kelly represent states which have liberal gun laws.  Such advertisement is acceptable in our constituencies.  Hyberbolism of the Palin type never intends to trigger  or provoke bloodshed. Using overstatements and cultural amplifications, this “violent rhetoric” as some miscall it, has a place in society.  

Jesus said

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

 Most Nearly everyone knows Jesus did not intend anyone to take this recommendation literally. He was using hyperbole to make the point that a man should remove sinful causes from his lifestyle.  Obviously Jesus was not teaching physical self-mutilation.  Likewise, it is obvious to the Arizona and Alaskan gun culture that Sarah Palin was not suggesting the use of firearms to eliminate political opponents. 

There exists a very small minority who for one reason or another interpret hyperbole (“violent rhetoric” as some call it) literally.  When Jesus said “…there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven…” some people acted on His words and castrated themselves.  The otherwise able and respected theologian Origen is reported by the historian Eusebius to have removed his own testicles based on a literal reading of this verse.  

The Pharisees and scribes and even Jesus’s own disciples made these errors, too.  When Jesus said, “…He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me…” it caused them to “stumble” over the Lord’s statement.  A violent argument started in the crowd regarding what He meant. Jesus was not teaching cannibalism. Everyone Most know that.

Figures of speech are used:

  • to add color or vividness.  “The Lord is my rock” (Psalm 18:2)
  • to attract attention. “Watch out for the dogs” (Philemon 3:2)
  • to make abstract ideas more concrete. “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)
  • to make retention easier. “You are like whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27)

Similes, metaphors, metonymy, personification, anthropomorphism, zoomorphism, hyperboles, parables, allegory, irony, symbols, types, and phenomenological language are literary devices found in the Bible. These figures of speech are found in our everyday conversations, too.  We are all guilty of word play. They are common to all human language. Some people do not recognize that the Bible is full of these figures of speech; as a result many religious cults err by misinterpreting the Holy Scripture. Likewise critics misinterpret the hyperbolic language used by Palin/Kelly’s literary styles.  Interpretation of the bottom line message goes astray when the type of language is misunderstood and consequently treated in an inappropriate way.

Gangsta Rap is famous for ever-present profanity and violent lyrics

Moreover, props, gestures, body movement are mere tools of the advertising trade.  It is assumed by Second Amendment advocates that Sarah Palin’s “target” and Jesse Kelly’s “gun” were never intended to mean violent action should be taken against political challengers.

Another mistake made in the interpretation of literary style is a failure to focus on grammatical construction. Poetry has a structure vastly different than a business letter. Rap music is constructed differently than Opera. It is important to know the colloquialisms of the audience.  If, for example, the American public had a knowledge of Greek grammar, the Jehovah’s Witnesses would have a much more difficult time selling their interpretation of the first chapter of the Gospel of John by which the Witnesses deny the deity of Christ [ii].  Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions, commands, or declarations.  Clearly, the constituencies of Governor Palin and Mr. Kelly understood the constructs in a way that no violent action should be taken.

Next, it is important to consider the historical and cultural context out of which messages are written. The cultural backdrop of Governor Palin’s and Mr. Kelly’s messages is the American Frontier.  A love for hunting and a reverence for the Second Amendment is embedded into the traditions of those to whom these so-called “violent” messages were intended.  This is the land of the Wild West. John Wayne, Barry Goldwater, Charlton Heston, and Ronald Reagan are heroes in these here parts.   If you apply the colloquial innuendos that are common in Arizona to a man in, say, Times Square miscommunication will result. 

European football fans organize into violent gangs

Football has a combative subculture, too. Advertisers exploit it regularly. Its fans love the battle of sport and the language has ingrained itself into our national mores (although there are a few who are repulsed by it).  Football fans love rivalry.  Courageous exploitation of skill, glorious bumper music, and virile clothing are part of the propaganda machine.  Fans have an  admiration of sheer brute force. If a man says, “I hope the Patriots murder the Steelers,” no thinking person would believe that a man’s life is in danger.  No one calls for an end to the “violent” rhetoric used by football commentators.   We do not hear calls for an end to the vicious language because, despite the fact that some hooligans exist, everyone knows that the loud and threatening speech surrounding sport is mere hype.  The rhetoric of Southwestern politics sound threatening to some, but Arizonans perceive it as simply hard sell. The rhetoric of Arizona politics is a buildup in the same way rhetoric at the Superbowl pregame show is used as a stunt to gather interest and capture attention.

Observe the confusion when President George W. Bush told those who were threatening to attack U.S. forces to “Bring ’em on!”  The troops cheered the President, but the press was horrified; they thought he was inciting violence.  To complicate things further, the phrase “bring ’em on” could not be translated in other languages in a way that could accurately convey the intended meaning.  This style of communication came to be known as “Cowboy Diplomacy.”

Many of the people asking if Governor Palin’s and Mr. Kelly’s “violent rhetoric” caused the Tucson shooting are trained journalists. It would not surprise me if literary style, especially hyperbole (“violent rhetoric” as some think of it), was discussed in their university textbook.

Backtracking is what “breaking news” media personalities do when they are caught delivering erroneous statements and flawed commentary regarding an event which they know little about.  These jump-to-conclusion types want to be the first to report something. They want to get their voice heard before other opinionmakers.  “Breaking news” commentators and bloggers are frequently forced to backtrack on their observation and opinion regarding unfolding stories. 

But how do you undo the character assassination on Governor Palin and Jesse Kelly? Oh by the way … “assassination” is not meant to be taken literally.

 *** UPDATE 01/10/2011 ***

Obama uses hyperbolic rhetoric in June 2008 speech: “…If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun …”  Is President Obama responsible for the Tucson killings?  Of course not.  His constituency knew he was speaking in hyperbolic terms.




[ii]  KNOWING SCRIPTURE, R.C. Sproul, page 56

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  1. sophie January 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM #

    FORMER Governor Palin. She abandoned her obligation to the state of Alaska to pursue more financially lucrative interests. She also enjoys killing for sport and has called for the assassination of at least one individual. She likes guns. She likes to kill. She wants others to kill people she doesn’t like.

    For someone who aspires to attain the highest political office in the land, she has an obligation to be careful with her words and actions during a time where mass shootings are prevalent, a time in which too many easliy influenced mentally unstable people are walking the streets.

    She needs to unload her guns, her mouth and her pen. Hopefully, this tragedy will bring about one positive thing, and that’s the American people’s collective realization that this woman takes no responsibility for her actions, EVER, and is the last person who should bear the priviledge of leading our country.


    • Sean January 11, 2011 at 6:58 AM #

      BAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! This Posting is funny $#!%. Do you actually believe the drivel that comes out of your mouth or are you just trying to be popular. The only bit of accurate information in this babble is that yes she reneged on your responsibilities and duties as Governor and therefore cannot be trusted.


  2. Thomas Jefferson For Real January 9, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

    Nicholas Voss, you are an idiot. Don’t try and compare what Jesus said to what Palin or Jesse Kelly said. There are always going to be people that take things literally when they are not meant to be, or that interpret things in their own way. However, this doesn’t excuse these politicians that have an ethical responsibility to watch their words. Take Obama for example, he watches what he says as to avoid inciting people. He understands that he might not directly be affected by his words, but others may. I’m greatly disturbed by what happened, and I can only pray that reform is made and all actions are taken to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. As far as you’re concerned Voss, you need to go to church!


    • Nicholas Voss January 10, 2011 at 5:42 AM #

      Mr Thomas Jeffeson For Real-
      Are you aware that the Lord also said “…And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire…”?


  3. Mick Russom January 10, 2011 at 12:46 AM #

    A left wing nut job , 22-year-old Jared Loughner, obsessed with Karl Marx guns down a Democrat and we the law abiding tax paying conservative freedom and liberty loving gun owning public have to suffer.

    What the hell is going on in the USA? Its a nightmare.

    Stop punishing the law abiding tax payers for the actions of a handful of people.

    Jared Loughner:

    – Tinkered with both anarchist ideas and leftwing politics
    – Loughner had identified among his favorite books “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and the fiction classic “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – hardly the reading list of a conservative.
    – Another Jared Loughner video shows a masked man burning the American flag
    – Loughner suggests that he was rejected from entering the U.S. Army to which he applied because he was offered a “mini Bible” during the recruitment process, but that he declined to “write a belief on my Army application and the recruiter wrote on the application: None.”
    – While it is now known that Loughner worked for Gifford’s election campaign in 2007, that Gifford subscribed to Loughner’s website since Oct. 25, 2010, suggests the two may have been in contact more recently.
    – Oddly, the only other YouTube channel Giffords subscribed to was that of former Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who lost his seat in November to Republican challenger Vicky Hartzler.
    – Killed a Republican appointed federal judge

    A Godless America hating flag burning lover of the Communist Manifesto shooting a fellow-traveler (democrat) will lead to more illegal (Violates the Second Amendment) gun control?

    We already have a nightmare oligarchical collectivist police state.


    • Nicholas Voss January 10, 2011 at 6:06 AM #

      Other violent actions caused by liberals (sorry I do not know where this quote came from, but someone else should receive credit for writing it):

      It was not the fear of conservative violence that caused Ann Coulter’s speech to be cancelled in Canada.

      It was a liberal who bit the finger off a man who disagreed with him on healthcare.

      It was Obama-loving Amy Bishop who took a gun to work and murdered co-workers.

      Joseph Stack flew his plane into the IRS building after writing an anti-conservative manifesto.

      It was liberals who destroyed AM radio towers outside of Seattle.

      It’s liberals who burn down Hummer dealerships.

      It was progressive SEIU union thugs who beat a black conservative man who spoke his mind.

      It’s doubtful that a conservative fired shots into a GOP campaign headquarters. In fact, Democrats have no monopoly on having their offices vandalized.

      Don’t forget it was Obama’s friend Bill Ayers who used terrorism as a tool for political change. SDS is still radical, with arrests in 2007 and the storming of the CATO Institute in July 2008.

      Also “…I am impressed by the prowess in the use of violence that peace activists routinely demonstrate…”


  4. Nicholas Voss January 10, 2011 at 7:30 AM #

    NY Times: Obama: ‘We Bring a Gun’

    Was Barack Obama inciting violence? Of course not. Clearly, his constituency knew he was using a figure of speech.


  5. Michael Babcock January 11, 2011 at 9:50 AM #

    Interesting article. It is funny everyone wants to point the finger at the foundational cause for such a tragedy, but they don’t know where to turn. When Adam fell into sin by eating the forbidden fruit, and when God confronted him, he immediately said, “The woman You gave me, she gave me the fruit and I did eat.” Now what was he doing but blaming everyone else for his sin but himself. “It is Your fault, God, because You gave me this woman. If she wasn’t around, I wouldn’t have done this evil.”

    This killing and attempted murder was because Jared Lee Loughner was a sinner. No one is to blame but himself. He himself did not attribute his actions to Palin, but admitted his influence came from Marx, Engels, and Hitler. He had occultic symbols and shrines in his house. We ought to listen to what he is saying as to why he did what he did rather than point the finger to Palin or anyone else.

    But violence is up in our nation. Why is that? Is it because politicians use loaded words (no pun intended)? Nick, you are right to point out we use these kind of things all the time in our speech and culture, and we understand them. Only a nut-job would take it any other way, or unless someone is deliberately putting a spin on things to attract attention or to steer people’s thinking in another direction. So it is not the hyperbole of politicians that is creating the violence. No, the reason why violence is up is because men are sinners and nothing but the Gospel of Jesus can change that. See the movie “The End of the Spear,” and see how the Gospel transformed a very violent culture, where no one ever saw their grandchildren because they would be killed before then. When one of the tribesmen was brought to the U.S.A., he commented on just how violent the people here are and all he could say is, “They need Jesus.” But since the Gospel is hated in our own culture, society is only acting out what it really wants.


  6. gloria handley January 12, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

    Even before this tragic event if the RNC had even mentioned Palin’s name as a candidate for anything I would have become a registered independent.. I only hesitate as that leaves me out of primary elections which I want to particpate in as a conservative.. not as a Republican. Those names are no long synonomys however so maybe the time is now to change my registration.

    Please don’t get me wrong.. I have much empathy and am disgusted for what happened last weekend but am equally disgusted with the media on both sides now more than ever.. I am an Arizona resident.. Gabby Giffords was an outstanding blue dog democrat and the people and little girl who died were a product of our environment.. not of politics. or is our environment politics these days?? The guy is a total wacko loon nut job.. Peronally I am getting sick and tired of it all and if the progressives want to drive people away from talk radio and FOX they are probably doing it with Dueling Retoric. Is it enough to just hope there are more idiots on the left than on the right ?? right now my tally is about equal.


    • Nicholas Voss January 12, 2011 at 9:12 PM #

      You are a great American, Ms. Handley!


  7. PeaPod Family January 12, 2011 at 9:55 PM #

    When asked, even my 11- and 7-year-old sons were able to identify who was to blame for the Tucson tragedy: “The guy who shot all those people is to blame, Mom.” How is it that the media and so many others cannot / will not see the plain truth?


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