Palin's Deft Touch on Race Relations

Two conflicting pieces of evidence on the state of race relations in America. Exhibit A: an African-American elected to the White House amid tears of joy and a 53 percent vote share. Exhibit B: Sarah Palin's cheeky, defiant—and increasingly incendiary—tweets.

On Wednesday, Palin leaped to defend radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who used the N word 11 times when a black woman called her advice hotline last week. After the furor broke, Dr. Laura apologized for a "horrible mistake." She also announced she would end her radio show so she could "get her First Amendment rights back" away from the media glare—prompting a certain ex-governor in Wasilla to take to Twitter: "Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence'isn't American,not fair')."

Later, Palin added: "Dr.Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionists. And b thankful 4 her voice,America!"

It's amazing what Twitter has done to political discourse. To put it mildly, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" this ain't. Of course, the exhortation "don't retreat … reload" has got Palin into trouble before, when she circulated a map of vulnerable Democratic candidates, their faces marked as if targeted by a gun. And its latest use, against black Americans upset by the N word, shows she is prepared to go back to the same well.

Inveighing against political correctness is obviously central to Palin's brand—as both a media personality and a potential presidential contender. Doubtless, there is a constituency in America that resentfully wonders why it is taboo for a white person to use the N word, even without malignant intent, yet acceptable for, say, a black rapper. But when a historically subjugated minority is so highly sensitive about a certain word, refraining from using it is not a matter of trampling the First Amendment. It's simply not being a jerk—and a 30-year media veteran such as Dr. Laura should have known better.

Palin's clout grows—at least in the Republican Party, where she has just endorsed another seven of her female "mama grizzly" candidates. Palin may have moxie, she may be entertaining. But as clout grows, so does responsibility, and one would like to think there comes a point where even she should know better, too.