Jonathan, you make excellent points about the common use of the term “blood libel” to describe wider acts of anti-Semitic thinking and behavior other than its original meaning — and why the day-long attack on Sarah Palin for using the phrase has an absurd tinge to it. Today, asked about the “blood libel,” for example, the political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum described it as “centuries of killing Jews in Europe,” which describes the result of the “blood libel” but not the term’s meaning. Shrum’s ignorance was mirrored by, for example, Nate Silver of the New York Times, who said on Twitter that he didn’t know the history of the “blood libel” either.
But neither Silver nor Shrum is equivalent to Palin. While Palin should not be faulted for saying things she didn’t say or committing errors she didn’t commit, the fact is she has achieved a kind of national stature that exists in tension with her general tendency toward speaking as a lone outsider battling larger forces. She is larger than many of those forces now, and large figures must move gracefully if they are not to topple over.
Complaining about “a blood libel” was a mistake in tone, as the fact that we are still discussing it indicates. Her talk was intended to still the waters, not roil them against her further. But her use of the phrase made that impossible. Whoever advises her should have known that, and if no one who advises her did know that, she needs to get a few more advisers with better judgment.