In the immediate aftermath of the Tucson, Arizona, shootings in 2011, controversy erupted over the role, if any, that Tea Party rhetoric had played in inciting Jared Lee Loughner’s rampage. Especially controversial was Sarah Palin’s video, “America’s Enduring Strength,” which denied that this rhetoric was responsible and, in fact, celebrated it as quintessential free speech. This essay makes two related arguments. First, although context encourages audiences to expect political self-defense, Palin’s video is neither deliberative nor forensic but epideictic: a celebration of abstract values so severed from circumstances that Palin et al. become heroically, purely virtuous, while those who dare raise the question of responsibility that is central to deliberation (“who, or what, is to blame, and what, then, is to be done?”) become vicious. However, this move is obscured because Palin’s version of free speech simultaneously inhabits the prevailing, and limited, social and legal understanding of the First Amendment. Hence, we also argue that a consequentialist framework for free expression is less suited to revealing the video’s troubling rhetoric of free speech than is a constitutive framework, such as has been proffered by some scholars of hate speech. To the extent that the consequentialist framework dominates constitutional jurisprudence and public understanding, however, “America’s Enduring Strength” also manifests America’s enduring problem in coming to grips with Tucson and other mass shootings.

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