By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Just hours before President Obama is scheduled to speak at a memorial service honoring the victims of last weekend’s shooting in Arizona, Sarah Palin stepped in with her own message addressing criticism that has been leveled against her in the wake of the tragedy.
In a video message posted on her Facebook page, Palin lashes out at “journalists and pundits,” who she says “should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.” http://abcn.ws/hAy4Xq
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Palin says in the message. “They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”
Her words, of course, amount to a rebuttal of those who have called her out for using violent images to “target” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other Democratic lawmakers during the 2010 election.
President Obama, meanwhile, was said to have worked throughout the night on the speech he is set to deliver at tonight's memorial service in Arizona, “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America.” According to ABC News’ Jake Tapper, the goal of his remarks will be to administer to those mourning, honor those impacted by the shootings — including the victims, the heroes, and all those grieving in Tucson and beyond. http://abcn.ws/e8m6CJ
Now is a time for both Obama and Palin to show leadership. For Palin, the challenge is for her to decide who she wants to — or can — be. Does she want to be a uniter and a national leader instead of one of the country's most polarizing figures?
In her video today, Palin tried to find a way to be both. She expresses great compassion and sympathy for the victims, praised our “exceptional nation” that is “a light to the rest of the world.” But she also used the address as a defense of herself and a critique of the media. Instead of trying to get beyond this controversy, Palin has put herself back in the middle of it.
Should she have ended her video right after her expression of sympathy? After all, isn’t today about the victims, not the debate? Then again, if she didn't address the debate swirling around her target map she might just as quickly have been accused of ducking the tough questions.
BOTTOM LINE: Sarah Palin, once again, has found a way to become part of the story. And she may well face further criticism for the timing and scope of her remarks. She is already taking heat for her use of the term "blood libel" (see today's Tweets). In her video she notes, “President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process.” It remains to be seen exactly what Obama will say tonight, but White House aides say another goal of his address will be to lift the nation up in this moment, not sully it with politics.
NOTED: Joining the president on his trip to Arizona today will be members of three branches of the federal government, ABC News’ Ann Compton notes: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who served as Arizona’s governor, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and from the legislative branch, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi along with Republican members of Arizona’s House delegation.
A PRESIDENTIAL MOMENT. As ABC’s Karen Travers points out, “in times of crisis and tragedy, Americans have turned to their president for leadership and words of reassurance.” Today is one of those times. “Several former presidential speechwriters — Democrats and Republicans — told ABC News that this speech should not be political and that it is first and foremost a eulogy. … ‘Any president has to balance both comforting the immediate families and speaking to the country's values and how to make changes to make sure the things don't happen again,’ said Michael Waldman, chief speechwriter for President Bill Clinton from 1995-1999.” http://abcn.ws/hhSUai
“William McGurn, chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush from 2006-2008, emphatically said the president should not address the ongoing debate about political rhetoric and what role, if any, it had in the Tucson shootings. ‘It's not appropriate,’ he said. ‘There are some things that make a problem worse.’”
VIDEO SLIDESHOW: Presidents In Times Of Crisis: A look back at how Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and others dealt with national tragedies. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/ep9QHc
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl interview freshman Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., about the aftermath of last weekend’s shooting and today’s memorial service in Tucson. The “Top Line” team will also get perspective from The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
THE LATEST FROM ARIZONA. “The devastated parents of accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner released a statement today saying they ‘don't understand’ what prompted their son to allegedly go on a ‘heinous’ shooting rampage that killed six and injured 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords,” ABC News’ Devin Dwyer, Tonya Kerr, Josey Crews and Emily Friedman report. “It was the first word from Loughner's family since the carnage on Saturday.”
“The Loughner's note of confusion and contrition contrasted with a hateful scribble that was found in Jared Loughner's safe that said simply, ‘Die bitch,’ a sheriff's official told The Associated Press. … Loughner's parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, are reportedly coping with their son's alleged rampage much as they've spent their recent family life: alone and in private. They have sealed themselves in their suburban Tucson home since Saturday's shooting, blocking access to the front door with a piece of wood to presumably keep people off their property.” http://abcn.ws/i55aHX
FULL COVERAGE of the aftermath of last weekend’s shooting on ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/Tucson_Tragedy/
Tragedy in Tucson: From Giffords' bedside to memorial services, a community pays tribute. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/gfVBap
MEMORIAL IN THE HOUSE. “A resolution to be read on the House floor Wednesday will honor the victims of Saturday's mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, and will also single out a number of individuals for heroic action on the scene of Saturday's bloody rampage,” ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports from Captiol Hill. The resolution also honors each individual killed in the shooting, including Gabe Zimmerman, Giffords' congressional aide who was gunned down. … There will also be an hour of debate set aside to discuss the resolution, affording individual members the opportunity to speak out about the tragedy.” http://abcn.ws/gjCb7L
Giffords' Staffer Survives Two Bullets: Pam Simon is expected to make a full recovery, says her son. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/ev8B4k
THE OBAMA SHUFFLE. “Busy days ahead for movers in President Obama's West Wing. Wednesday is move-in day for the new White House chief of staff, Bill Daley, and his chief of staff, David Lane, who's been running Bono's One Campaign and before that was a senior official at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reports. “Sean Sweeney, who was chief of staff to former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, moves down to what's called the ward room, a windowless spot in the West Wing basement, where he's hanging with Chicago-bound Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina - whom Daley wants to stay on for a bit to advise him. Meanwhile, a number of senior White House aides appear to be still in the mix for the two deputy-chief-of-staff slots, including Alyssa Mastromonaco, who makes the trains run on time as scheduling and advance chief; Nancy Ann DeParle, who runs the White House Office of Health Reform; and Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president for special projects.” http://wapo.st/ieJcex
RNC COUNTDOWN. Members of the Republican National Committee gather on Friday to elect a chairman to lead them into the 2012 presidential election cycle, and Wisconsin's Reince Priebus appears to have an edge while incumbent Michael Steele seems to have the longest odds for keep the job. The consensus among party insiders, however, is that the race is still essentially anybody's game. With five candidates vying for the position, a quirky election process that will likely include multiple ballots as well as a series of public commitments from members that could quickly shift once the voting begins, this Friday's election could turn into long day of arm twisting. http://abcn.ws/eL7s5E
So far, Priebus, the Wisconsin GOP Chairman, has captured more endorsements from the 168 GOP state chairs and national committee members than any other candidate. Steele, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, former Missouri GOP chair Ann Wagner and long-time Republican operative Maria Cino appear to be trailing. But dozens of members are either undecided or unwilling to publicly commit to a candidate.
MITCH DANIELS: SOUNDING PRESIDENTIAL. Indiana governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitch Daniels delivered his State of the State address yesterday and part of it read like a rationale for a presidential campaign. “Building one of the best job climates in the country isn’t enough. Breaking the all-time record for new job commitments isn't enough,” Daniels said. “Adding new jobs at twice the national average isn’t enough. We did all those things in 2010, but it couldn’t offset the terrible drag of a national economic ebb tide that continues to leave too many boats stuck in the muck.”
HALEY BARBOUR ON CIVIL RIGHTS. “Three weeks after drawing criticism for complimentary remarks about the segregationist Citizens' Council, Gov. Haley Barbour urged lawmakers to go forward with a $50 million plan to build a civil rights museum in downtown Jackson. … “The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it," Barbour said in his last State of the State address, according to Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “During his speech, Barbour sounded at times like a candidate, decrying the federal government's ‘gigantic deficits’ and criticizing the Obama administration for driving up the cost of energy. ‘Gasoline costs more than $3 a gallon because the administration's energy policy can be stated in one sentence: Increase the cost of energy so people will use less,’ he said.” http://bit.ly/i0kiKK
@GlennThrush: "Blood libel" is anti-Semetic myth that Jews murder gentile babies and use their blood to bake matzohs, justification for killing, pogroms
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