Close Readings: Sarah Palin and “refudiate”

Sarah Palin, seen here monopolizing a city council meeting in A Just World.

Yesterday, Sarah Palin risked the loyalty of her constituents by announcing her opposition to a planned mosque at Ground Zero, via Twitter. She’s since deleted that post, for reasons the foregoing article makes obvious, but here’s her original tweet:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.

“Refudiate” is, of course, not a word. It seems to be a concatenation of “refute” and “repudiate,” or just a one-letter typo, although Palin’s subsequent defense (see below) suggests the former. The commentariat regards her use of “refudiate” as a gaffe, and they’re having a pretty good time with it. As is often the case, though, Palin is stupid like a fox. It’s a good thing “refudiate” is in that tweet, because it distracts from the rest of it—and you know what that means. When meaning tries to hide behind language, and also when the Combat! blog headline  has “close reading” in it, it’s time for another Close Reading.

By Palin standards, the literal meaning of yesterday’s statement is remarkably clear. She is against the building of a mosque near the site of the September 11th attacks, called the World Trade Center by New Yorkers and Ground Zero by everybody else. My initial response to this position was to question why Sarah Palin thought it was any of her business where they put the mosques in New York City, since she doesn’t live there. Except she kind of does. She maintains a residence in New York for her Fox News gig, even though we all know she lives in Alaska, and also she is in America’s heartland.

This sort of confusion about from whence and Palin speaks is the unifying rhetorical technique of her tweet. In 22 words, Palin twice addresses herself to specific auditors. The first is “Ground Zero Mosque supporters” and the second is “Peaceful Muslims”—two groups who are almost certainly not best reached via Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed. Of course, Palin is not actually speaking to them. She’s speaking to her supporters—the owners of the stabbed hearts that are “ours throughout the heartland.”

That inversion between speaker and spoken-to is one of Palin’s signature moves. In addressing her followers by addressing someone else—deploying an apostrophic straw man, if you will—Palin manages to speak for her constituents without overtly presuming to do so. The impression is that she just agrees with you. Consider the substance of the tweet without this rhetorical strategy:

Why doesn’t the Ground Zero Mosque stab its supporters in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims shld refudiate.

Palin’s position here seems less tenable, since it fatuously asks why people who oppose her on this issue don’t feel the same way she does, before telling members of the world’s second-largest religion what to do. When addressed to “Ground Zero Mosque supporters,” her appeal becomes an accusation. How can they think of putting a mosque at the World Trade Center site and not feel a pang? Doesn’t it stab them in the hearts?

Presumably it does not, because they don’t associate the gathering of Muslims for religious services with terrorism. To them, it’s just a mosque, or at least a symbol of how mosques might be just mosques in the future. Here we come to the second advantage of starting the tweet with “Ground Zero Mosque supporters:”—it hides the vague antecedent of “it.”

Using “it” in this construction avoids the inadvertent comedy of the more direct sentence, “Doesn’t the Ground Zero Mosque stab you in the heart?” That is not a remark that can be solemnly made about anything with minarets. More importantly, “it” becomes not the mosque but the whole situation—the attacks, the omnipresent fear that people will forget the attacks, the way Muslims appear to be flaunting their inclusion in America’s pluralist society by, you know, having churches and stuff.

In this context, “it” stops being a mosque and starts being a set of presumptions, the foremost of which is that Islam and terrorism are fundamentally connected. This connection is reinforced by the phrase “peaceful Muslims” at the end, which A) implies that such are not the standard Muslims and B) opposes the aforementioned mosque, which presumably will not be used as a terrorist training center, to peaceful Islam.

All of these sentiments are ugly and, if not demonstrably false, at least unwarranted. The big news, though, is not that Sarah Palin called upon us throughout the heartland/predominantly white Christian area of America to stand up against freedom of worship. It’s that she said “refudiate.” Don’t worry, though. She’s defended herself:

“Refudiate,” “misunderestimate,” “wee-wee’d up.” English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

First of all, don’t you never let me hear you compare yourself to Shakespeare, bitch. Second of all, any sensible person would have said, “Whoops. I meant ‘repudiate.'” Ha!” Instead, she defended her use of a made-up word and deleted the original tweet. Here is a person who, for all of her compositional deficiencies, at least thinks the same way she writes.

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  1. English teachers of the world:

    Doesn’t it just stab you in the heart to have a former vice-presidential candidate use the term “wee-wee’d up”?

    Plse demand correctofaction.

  2. I wonder which of Shakespeare’s many coinages was Palin’s favorite.

    Or would it be a “gotcha” question to ask her about her own excited literary reference? You know, the way asking her about the broadest initiatives within her own party (Bush Doctrine) was a “gotcha” question, too?

    We are so fuck-ed.

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