While I dislike the term teachable moment, it does convey a certain gravitas while flirting with being just another cliché in a world chockablock with them. And as two recent if disparate incidents show, the Republican Party has an extraordinary knack of taking things that could improve its cold-hearted image by showing a serial disinterest in teachable moments and instead branding itself with new and even blacker black marks as it yet again makes the case that it prefers whining to leading and has the compassion of Simon Legree.
The incidents are the Flint Water Crisis, in which Republicans ignored the pleas of a poisoned city until that became politically untenable, and Sarah Palin's baseless implication that President Obama is somehow responsible for her son Track's arrest over a domestic violence incident that she claims was a result of Iraq war-induced PTSD because the White House doesn't give a damn about veterans.
Both could have been teachable moments: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder could have declared, despite his party's past indifference to minorities and the poor, that Flint was at the top of his administration's agenda, while the former half-term Alaska governor could have used her son as not yet another "victim" of the Islamofacist president's policies but as a poster boy to show that Republicans, despite their past indifference, care deeply about troubled veterans and are leading the charge to get them the services they so badly need.
Palin's outburst is especially concerning to me as a veteran who has written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and seen its effects firsthand while ruing the reluctance of politicians in general and Republicans in particular to adequately fund veterans programs in general and mental health programs in particular.
My friend Nick was never the same after Vietnam. He would lapse into deep depressions, let his teeth go, chain smoked cigarettes and pot and drank way too much booze, fought with his wife and would leave home for days at a time after suffering nightmares about the people that he had killed and seen killed skippering a Navy river boat that patrolled the Mekong River. If you've seen Apocalypse Now, Nick lived it, and died way too young from the hydra-headed effects of PTSD.
Track Palin, 24, the eldest child of the one-time vice presidential candidate and her husband, Todd, was arrested on January 19 and charged in a domestic violence case in which his girlfriend said he punched her in the head and threatened her with a rifle while in a drunken rage.
The girlfriend told police Track kicked her on the knee and threw her cell phone, cocked a gun with his right hand near the trigger and his left hand next to the barrel, and said, "Do you think I won’t do it?" An unloaded AR-15 semi-automatic rifle was on a kitchen counter when police arrived, and they found Track's girlfriend hiding under a bed.
Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump later that day at a campaign event in Iowa. The next day, speaking at an event for Trump in Oklahoma, Palin addressed what she called the "elephant in the room," saying her son had suffered trauma while serving in Iraq, where he was deployed for a year beginning in 2008.
Not content to leave it at that, Palin chose to pile on.
She said soldiers needed a president who understands their sacrifices, "So when my own son is going through what he goes through coming back, I can certainly relate with other families who kind of feel these ramifications of some PTSD and some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with.
"And it makes me realize more than ever, it is now or never for the sake of America's finest that we have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them."
Track Palin did not see combat in Iraq despite claims by his mother, so it is difficult to substantiate her assertion that he suffers from PTSD. He and some other members of the Palin family have a history of being involved in violent incidents that long predate Track's deployment, and Todd Palin in particular was involved in several such incidents before and after his 1988 elopement with Sarah Palin.
In suggesting that President Obama's policies had worsened her son's condition, Palin not only blew the opportunity of a teachable moment concerning combat and its pernicious psychological effects, she disingenuously used her son's domestic violence incident as a logical consequence of PTSD and in doing so labeled all veterans as ticking time bombs.
Sarah Palin is a narcissistic, power abusing kook and practiced liar, so her outburst comes as no surprise. But it's still a damned shame that she chose to diss veterans -- and the president -- in defending her son's own behavior.