As part of an event designed to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, former President Bill Clinton made some remarks yesterday [PDF file] that got right-wingers all upset again:
Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America in the early 1990s. First, it was a time, like now, of dramatic upheaval. A lot of old arrangements had changed. The things that anchored peoples’ lives and gave a certainty to them had been unraveling. Some of them, by then, for 20 years. ... And there were more and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in. More and more people who had a very difficult time living with confidence and optimism in the face of change. It is true that we see some of that today.
... But what we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold -- but that the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody.
But one of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.
Look, I'm glad they're fighting over health care and everything else. Let them have at it. But I think all you have to do is read the paper everyday to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled. We know, now, that there are people involved in groups – these “hatriot” groups, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the others – 99 percent of them will never do anything they shouldn’t do. But there are people who advocate violence and anticipate violence.
One of these guys the other day said that all politics is just a prelude to the ultimate and inevitable civil war. You know, I’m a southerner. I know what happened. We were still paying for that 100 years later when I was a kid growing up, in ways large and small. It doesn’t take many people to take something like that seriously. So I don’t want the whole story of this retrospective just to be about this, and trying to turn everything into politics.
And I guess that’s naïve, me being in Washington and all. I still have some memory of it. (Laughter.) But I think that the point I’m trying to make is, I like the debate. This “tea party” movement can be a healthy thing if they’re making us justify every penny of taxes we raised and every dollar of public money we spend. And they say they’re for limited government and a balanced budget; when I left office, we had the smallest workforce since Eisenhower and we had four surpluses for the first time in 70 years.
... Yes, the Boston tea party involved the seizure of tea in the ship because it was taxation without representation. This fight is about taxation by duly elected representatives that you don't happen to agree with and can vote out at the next election -- and two years after that, and two years after that, and two years after that. That's very different.
... By all means, keep fighting. By all means, keep arguing. But remember words have consequences as much as actions do. And what we advocate commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City.
We owe it to keep on fighting, keep on arguing. They didn’t vote for me in Oklahoma in 1996. It was still a Republican state. But I loved them anyway, and I will till the day I die, because when this country was flat on its back mourning their loss, they rallied around the employees of the national government and they rallied around the human beings who had lost everything, and they rallied around the elemental principle that what we have in common is more important than our differences. And that’s why our Constitution makes our freedoms last – because of that bright line.
Naturally, such eminent reasonableness upset the talking heads at Fox News very much indeed:
Charles Krauthammer: "I think it's disgusting. ... This is really disgraceful."
Stephen Hayes: "But to link it to Tea Parties, to suggest that there's some bridge, that there's some connection, I think is grossly irresponsible."
Chris Wallace: "Why is he bringing up the Tea Party and Oklahoma City in the same sentence or the same paragraph in the first place? And again, it seems to me to be an effort to marginalize these people."
Byron York: "I think this is more of an effort to sort of pre-tar the Tea Party movement with the label of being violent when, uh, nothing in fact has actually happened."
Gee, we wonder where Clinton could have gotten the idea that the Tea Parties were connected to the militia movement of the 1990s.
You don't suppose it could have had anything to do with the saturation of Tea Party events with Patriot movement ideas and agendas, as well as its many conspiracy theories, embodied in all those Patriot movement and militia leaders appearing at Tea Party events, do you?