In a forceful and unapologetic statement released early Wednesday, Sarah Palin dismissed critics who had suggested that the former Alaska governor's firearms-infused rhetoric contributed to the shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded 14, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, contending they "incite the hatred and violence they purport to condemn."
"Like many, I've spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance," Palin said. "After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event."
Palin strongly pushed back at the notion that overheated political speech helped give rise to a climate that placed lawmakers such as Giffords at risk.
"Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere," Palin said. "As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, 'We know violence isn't the answer. When we "take up our arms," we're talking about our vote.' "
She saved her harshest words for "media and pundits," whom she said "should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."
Unlike some conservatives, Palin stayed away from trying to pin the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, as a left-leaning anarchist, calling him instead a "deranged, apparently apolitical criminal."
Palin was almost immediately intertwined with the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday because Giffords' district had been targeted in a map Palin's political operation employed during the last congressional campaign. The map featured symbols that critics said were gun sights, but a Palin aide later argued they were surveyor's marks. In her remarks Wednesday, she said such maps are used by "both sides of the aisle."
On Saturday, even as Giffords and others fought for life, Palin's Facebook page was spilling over with indictments suggesting that the politician had helped to prompt the massacre because she had, as she acknowledged Wednesday, regularly utilized gun metaphors on the stump. Palin released a brief statement of sympathy for the victims Saturday, but Wednesday's remarks showed that she had clearly been following the controversy that had surrounded her, one that has had some questioning whether her chances at the 2012 GOP presidential nomination had been seriously damaged.
Her statement, which was posted on Facebook, was accompanied by a video that likely will do little to quell the speculation over whether Palin will seek that nomination. It positions her in presidential fashion, with an American flag on the right side of the frame. And in her remarks, Palin clearly embraces her role as a leader of her party and potential challenger to the president.
"The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country's future," Palin said. "President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago, his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections, the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our republic."
The president will be traveling to Arizona later Wednesday and is expected to speak at a memorial service at the University of Arizona in Tucson this evening. He'll be accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
In Washington, House Speaker John Boehner will deliver remarks on the House floor Wednesday morning in advance of a resolution honoring the victims of the shooting and will later participate in a bipartisan prayer service on Capitol Hill.