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Posted at 12:06 PM ET, 01/11/2011

The right-wing narrative about Clinton, the Oklahoma bombing, and Obama

By Adam Serwer

President Obama is heading to Arizona to commemorate the victims of Saturday's events in Tucson, and conservatives are already expressing concern about a replay of Bill Clinton's 1995 speech denouncing "purveyors of hatred and division" on the airwaves in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

In a preemptive strike, conservatives are already misrepresenting the history of that event, arguing that Clinton politicized the bombing for his own gain. At National Review, John J. Miller writes, "Clinton saw an opportunity to link his conservative political opponents to bomber Timothy McVeigh. He seized it." This is how conservatives remember it, but it's not what happened. Rather, Clinton issued a broad appeal for civility, unity, and personal responsibility across the political spectrum, showing strong leadership in the process -- precisely what conservatives fear Obama will do now.

The part that still angers conservatives about Clinton's response to the bombing is actually a small portion of the overall speech, which touched on everything from tax cuts to the deficit to education. He started his speech referring to the recovery effort, but said that "we must arrest, convict, and punish the people who committed this terrible, terrible deed, but our responsibility does not end there." He continued:

In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake. I never want to look into the faces of another set of family members like I saw yesterday, and you can help to stop it.

Clinton never mentioned anyone by name, nor did he refer at all to the Republican takeover of Congress. Rush Limbaugh continues to insist, to this day, that Clinton blamed him for the bombings. Limbaugh actually blames Clinton ("what followed [Waco] was a domestic terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City"). Limbaugh apparently believes in blowback theory when right wing terrorists are involved and a Democrat is president.

Looking back at the text of the speech, Clinton made some broad statements that shouldn't be very controversial. He does identify "the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today" who " leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable," but of course it was Limbaugh who said two months earlier that "the second violent American revolution is just about -- I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart -- is just about that far away. Because these people are sick and tired of a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington driving into town and telling them what they can and can't do with their land using all of these federal regulations."

As Howard Kurtz noted at the time, this was a "prediction of a violent revolution, without the slightest expression of disapproval[.]" He has reiterated those predictions in the last few years. Clinton's words were actually carefully chosen -- he never accused talk radio of explicitly endorsing violence, but rather leaving the impression that violence was acceptable. 

It's no wonder that when Clinton said, "When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them," Limbaugh felt somewhat self-conscious. But the sentiments themselves are uncontroversial. Glenn Beck, who has proven himself to be more outlandish but perhaps more politically savvy than his predecessor, last night "challenged" the president to sign his pledge declaring that "I denounce violence regardless of ideological motivation. I denounce anyone from the left, the right, or the middle who believe physical violence is the answer to whatever it is they feel is wrong with our country."

Rather than identify himself as the greatest victim of the tragedy, Beck issued a blanket condemnation of violence. While obviously Beck has his own political motives, and it's hard to take his condemnations of violence seriously in tandem with his apocalyptic conspiracy theories, what he did was welcome -- he quickly and decisively condemned political violence and disassociated himself from it.

Compare that to the right's response to the Department of Homeland Security's report on right-wing extremism two years ago, which was to react as though the government was worried about your average Tea Partyer instead of the next Timothy McVeigh, ironically embracing the term "right wing extremist." Following a number of genuine instances of violence, that doesn't seem so funny anymore. With Clinton, the notion that he "linked his political opponents" to violence seems less accurate than to say his opponents saw themselves reflected in his rather general condemnations.

When Obama speaks in Arizona, it seems likely that he will condemn political violence and comment on the state of our political discourse. The best way for Republicans to avoid being "linked" to violence through such a condemnation would be not to link themselves to it.

By Adam Serwer  | January 11, 2011; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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Next: Mental illness expert: We should be asking whether political climate helped trigger shooting

Comments

Speaking of Right Wing narratives... I think this is on topic:

Rush Limbaugh claimed that Democrats are looking to politicize the shootings in Arizona, according to Roll Call.

The Democratic Party, he said, is "a party that seeks to profit out of murder" adding that the political left "openly wishes for such disaster in order to profit from it."

http://politicalwire.com/archives/2011/01/11/limbaugh_says_democrats_want_to_profit_from_shootings.html

When is someone, anyone, on the right going to stand up to Rush Limbaugh, Emperor of the Republican Party???

Posted by: Ethan2010 | January 11, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Leftists and Democrats want us to focus on the (alleged) “right's sometimes martial anti-government rhetoric" after the tragedy yesterday. Maybe they should start with President Obama. He's clearly the worst offender.
http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/2011/01/did-barack-obama-cause-the-shootings-yesterday-in-tucson

** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
** Obama to His Followers: “Get in Their Faces!”
** Obama on ACORN Mobs: “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!”
** Obama to His Mercenary Army: “Hit Back Twice As Hard”
** Obama on the private sector: “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.“
** Obama to voters: Republican victory would mean “hand to hand combat”
** Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”
** Obama to Latino supporters: “Punish your enemies.”
** Obama to democrats: “I’m itching for a fight.”

If Leftists really want to consider the atmosphere of violent language, they should start at the White House.

I eagerly await the Greg’s strong denunciation of Obama’s violent rhetoric.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

"When is someone, anyone, on the right going to stand up to Rush Limbaugh, Emperor of the Republican Party???"

Never. The Right by their nature are cowardly lemmings. This is why they think having a gun in your mitts can solve insurmountable problems.

Posted by: filmnoia | January 11, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Leftists and Democrats want us to focus on the (alleged) "right-wing extremism" rather than the Leftist shooters discipleship with Obama mentor, Bill Ayers. Maybe they should start with condemning President Obama, the Extremist-in-Chief.
http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/2011/01/did-barack-obama-cause-the-shootings-yesterday-in-tucson

** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
** Obama to His Followers: “Get in Their Faces!”
** Obama on ACORN Mobs: “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!”
** Obama to His Mercenary Army: “Hit Back Twice As Hard”
** Obama on the private sector: “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.“
** Obama to voters: Republican victory would mean “hand to hand combat”
** Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”
** Obama to Latino supporters: “Punish your enemies.”
** Obama to democrats: “I’m itching for a fight.”

If Leftists really want to consider the atmosphere of violent language, they should start at the White House.

BREAKING: AZ Shooter is Leftist-terrorist Bill Ayers disciple
http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=249429#ixzz1AfFPHymn

"Jared Lee Loughner, the suspected gunman in Saturday's Arizona shooting, attended a high school that is part of a network in which teachers are trained and provided resources by a liberal group founded by Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers and funded by President Obama..."

I eagerly await the MSM’s strong denunciation of Obama’s violent rhetoric.

Own him, Leftists. He's all yours.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Never. The Right by their nature are cowardly lemmings. This is why they think having a gun in your mitts can solve insurmountable problems.

Posted by: filmnoia | January 11, 2011 12:20 PM
-------

But they do pay the taxes which keep food on the tables of cretins like you.

Posted by: Brigade | January 11, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

@Ethan2010: "The Democratic Party, he said, is 'a party that seeks to profit out of murder' adding that the political left 'openly wishes for such disaster in order to profit from it.'"

Sigh. And it's a silly accusation, as the left doesn't profit from it at all, as far as I can tell. But, come on. The vast, vast majority of the left doesn't want people to die so they can exploit it "for profit".

Whatever. I got work to do.

I am assuming, of course, the quote wasn't taken out of context.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 11, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

More fraudulent right-wing narrative...

This time from the Tea Party Liars:

"The media didn't tell you that the left-wing website, DailyKos, had targeted Congresswoman Giffords, putting a BULLSEYE on her, did they? But that's just what happened."

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2011/1/11/935194/-Tea-Party-Express-fundraises-off-Arizona-tragedy,-lies-about-Daily-Kos

But that's not at all what happened. Read Kos' post.

Point being, this is just ANOTHER example -- they are coming too fast and furious to record -- of Republicans lying about Democrats in an attempt to shift the narrative.

These people are losers. They have lost the debate of ideas. They are now defending what they have become since losing the contest of ideas: salacious lies, intimidation, and violence.

But it doesn't matter to Republicans like Kevin.

It's always someone else's problem or someone else's fault. It's "out of context."

Kevin, you idiot, Rush Limbaugh has been making provocative, incendiary comments for DECADES. That IS his context. That IS the flag with which he wraps his lunacy. All he knows is provocation. All he does is destroy. All he does is insult. If you don't know that by now, you are a bigger fool than he is, as you are taken along for the ride, excusing irresponsible behavior as if it's nothing.

Until YOU stand up against people who say that the Democratic Party HOPES for assassinations, until then, Kevin, YOU are the problem.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | January 11, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

@KaddafiDelendaEst

I find your apparent condemnation of violence ironic considering your screen name.

Posted by: kmy042 | January 11, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"But they do pay the taxes which keep food on the tables of cretins like you"

I put my own food on the table, and I probably pay more taxes than you - ya jerk. It's no big deal. I accept it as being part of a civil society. Your kind don't believe in helping anyone , since it's all you all the time.

Posted by: filmnoia | January 11, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

The Tucson Shooting's Most Important Questions
by: David Sirota

Tue Jan 11, 2011 at 09:00

Since the shooting in Tucson on Saturday, lots of important questions have been raised - questions that go to issues than transcend even the monumentally horrific shooting itself. In the interest of summation, here are the best questions I've seen on Twitter, Facebook, in the blogosphere, on radio and elsewhere.
- If after a calculated political assassination attempt we cannot talk about the downsides of a right-wing media that effectively endorses political violence, when can we talk about this subject? Or should we never talk about this problem?

- Aren't calculated political assassination attempts by definition "political?" If so, then how can anyone argue that anyone is trying to "politicize" the Tucson shooting?

- If Osama bin Laden prominently posted a graphic on the Internet with a target on a particular congresswoman, and then a Muslim shot that congresswoman, would the GOP and the conservative media call it terrorism and in part blame bin Laden? If the answer is yes, why isn't the same standard applied to Sarah Palin?

- Knowing that Rep. Giffords publicly worried about the "conseqeuences" of Palin's violent rhetoric, don't we owe it to her to now talk about those consequences in a sober and serious way?

- Since the shooting, has a single conservative movement leader denounced violence-glorifying political rhetoric?

- If cultural conservatives believe violent video games and comic books are dangerous because they can foment violence, why don't those same conservatives believe violent rhetoric broadcast on TV and radio won't do the same thing?

- Do conservatives really expect America to believe someone can't be both crazy/deranged and also motivated by a culture that says violence is an acceptable form of political expression?

- Even if there is no direct/literal connection between right-wing rhetoric that glorifies violence and the shooting in Tucson, wouldn't society be better off without such violence-glorifying rhetoric being so ubiquitous? What would be such a terrible tragedy if this horrific shooting resulted in less such rhetoric?

http://openleft.com/

Posted by: wbgonne | January 11, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Classy: Leftists Call For Assassination of Sarah Palin.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxgJKNpjSNI&feature=player_embedded#!

Death threats: how progressive!

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

@kmy042: I find your smug sympathy for Kaddafi pathetic and eagerly await your denunciation of Obama’s violent rhetoric.

Own the AZ shooter, Leftists. He's all yours.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

@Ethan2010: "These people are losers. They have lost the debate of ideas. They are now defending what they have become since losing the contest of ideas: salacious lies, intimidation, and violence."

Well, can't argue with that.

"But it doesn't matter to Republicans like Kevin."

So, what's to be done, Ethan?

It's always someone else's problem or someone else's fault. It's "out of context."

"Kevin, you idiot,"

Would have read the rest, but I'm too stupid. Hope I didn't miss anything good.

"excusing irresponsible behavior as if it's nothing."

Ironic, that.

"Until YOU stand up against people who say that the Democratic Party HOPES for assassinations"

I'm sorry, what did I say? I think that's crazy. I said, explicitly, that the left isn't hoping to profit from murder. I will now say explicitly that it's not rational to say that the Democratic Party, collectively or individually, hopes that people are assassinated. That's crazy-talk. In my opinion.

I'm sure that will be inadequate and, like Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors, I'll be forced to ask (in a strictly metaphorical manner): "What do you want from me, blood?"

"until then, Kevin, YOU are the problem."

Better to be the problem than have the problem, I suppose. Or, to put it another way: I disagree with you, there.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 11, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I thought it was irresponsible and beyond the pale to connect the Arizona shooter to the right.

But it's appropriate to connect him to the left?

Posted by: pragmaticagain | January 11, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

All, I just spoke to a mental illness expert about the shooting, and he said some very interesting things:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2011/01/mental_illness_expert_we_shoul.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 11, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

The right has to talk endlessly about this kind of culture "war" stuff because they need to focus the anger of their aging, downwardly mobile base away from the divisions within the party. If the Republican base were focusing energy on the slate of candidates trying to become President two years from now, the infighting would be disastrous.

Posted by: shrink2 | January 11, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

arguing that Clinton politicized the bombing for his own gain.


Clinton did EXACTLY THAT.


It was outrageous that day - and it is outrageous today.


Clinton lost a great deal of support that day - AND it just may have resolved people to his IMPEACHMENT.

.

Posted by: RainForestRising | January 11, 2011 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Kevin,
I don't know why you even respond to Ethan 2010. Clearly he is either the same person as Rainforst, or just as mentally unbalanced. Same stuff, different political spectrum.

Posted by: Bailers | January 11, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Since Republicans have never politicized Islamic terrorism with a 9/11 music video at their convention and have never gleefully tried to score political points by kicking Obama after a failed underwear bombing and have never for political gain stoked more fear to Al Qaeda's delight, they have a point.

Posted by: birchbeer | January 11, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

@KW:

"So, what's to be done, Ethan?"

Stand up to Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Bachmann, et al. It's that easy. Let's see you condemn some of their irresponsible remarks. You have TONS of material from which to choose.

"I said, explicitly, that the left isn't hoping to profit from murder. I will now say explicitly that it's not rational to say that the Democratic Party, collectively or individually, hopes that people are assassinated. That's crazy-talk. In my opinion."

Okay, good start. It would help if you told your Republican representatives in Congress that very same message. It would also help if you wrote to your local newspaper decrying comments like these.

Now keep it up.

"I disagree with you, there."

You can't disagree. The fact is that silence is acquiescence. If people like you don't start organically rejecting these messages, instead of being shamed to do so by me, then in fact people like you -- Republican voters who stay silent in the face of lunacy on the Right -- ARE the problem.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | January 11, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

KaddafiDelendaEst, all right, here's a leftist who completely agrees with you on the disgusting comments made about the YouTube thing you posted. It made me sick. I despise Gov. Palin's policies, but I neither wish her to be shot or get an incurable disease. I hope instead that someday, she'll develop a far more thoughtful worldview.

Jared Loughner was neither a right-wing nut nor a left-wing nut. He was apolitical and is insane. He developed an obsession about someone who happened to be a politician-- much like there are insane people who stalk and sometimes harm or kill celebrities with whom they actually have never really had a personal relationship.

With that said, I think some of the rhetoric from the right HAS encouraged some who are at least borderline insane to think that it may actually be acceptable in the cause of what THEY see as "liberty" to use "a Second Amendment solution." And certainly, there are people on the left who feel the same way. I'm grateful that my friends and family protest policies we don't like by writing letters, signing petitions, going to rallies, PEACEFULLY requesting meetings with our elected representatives, and especially, VOTING every two years. I can honestly say that I have NEVER heard anyone I know express such ugly statements as the ones in that video.

Posted by: dcgrasso1 | January 11, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun” A blatant reference to the Untouchable and a metaphor to characterize verbal debate about issues.

The difference is that Obama (and other progressives reaching the same audience) are not concurrently stoking fears that Republican electoral victories could edge us closer to the point of needing a violent uprising. But that IS the salad of messaging the Republicans and conservative media have been feeding their audience for two years. The difference in context makes Republican militant imagery more insidious as evidenced by multiple violent outbursts by rightwing anti-government types, causing many tragic casualties before Arizona even happened. And almost none in the other direction.

Also Obama's audience is WAY less likely to respond with political violence than a conservative one if you realistically consider the enormous gulf of who gun-obsessed American militants listen to. (to the point that a girl had to carve a backwards B on her face to try to frame Obama supporters in 2008.)

Obama has overwhelmingly talked about national unity and recognizing what we have in common. Conservatives have a visceral, irrational hatred for him.

Posted by: birchbeer | January 11, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

shrink2 writes
"If the Republican base were focusing energy on the slate of candidates trying to become President two years from now, the infighting would be disastrous."


Poor T-Paw can't catch a break. He's starting his book tour today, but will have trouble breaking through the coverage of and bickering over the safeway massacre.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 11, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

It matters not what Obama says. When he's done speaking, the right will work itself into its usual fake outrage, blubbering and shooting guns randomly a la Yosemite Sam.

Posted by: cao091402 | January 11, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”

LOL!!! Oh please...

Posted by: Alex3 | January 11, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”

LOL!!! Oh please...

Posted by: Alex3 | January 11, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"Conservatives have a visceral, irrational hatred for [Obama.]"

Yup.

Posted by: Alex3 | January 11, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Rainforestrising....You are lying again. Can't stop, can you?

Read the whole speech. President Clinton never once mentioned any individual, or political party of causing the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing. Not one. Of course you can say he did but we have the transcripts. I just re-read the speech (try google if you don't trust wikipedia). No President Clinton said exactly the right thing. I expect President Obama to do the same today.

The point is what you say has consequences. That's true of all of us. But you trying to make this tragedy (and the Oklahoma City bombing) a Democratic cause & blunder shows what a pitiful soul you (and KaddafiDelendaEst) are.

Posted by: kindness1 | January 11, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Looks like the Plum Line has attracted another nut. Where's a squirrel when you need one?

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 11, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse

It is time to re iterate the point I made yesterday: the prospect of violent rebellion is simply a fact of life on earth for our species.

The ebb and flow of power is what makes up history. The American experiment was born of just such a tidal change and it will end with one too. That's just the way it is.

When the people of America finally reach the conclusion that the government is no longer worth obeying, we will withdraw our consent to be governed by it, one way or another.

And as I said yesterday such a concept is not something the American left can embrace. An all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, wise and just government is the most important foundational support for the liberal doctrine. A resentful, restive and disobedient civilian population throws sand in that machinery.

Are we at such a tidal bore? Many in America think we are. Many in America think that even a little more distance leftward and we'll be there. Are they wrong? Perhaps, but are their concerns illegitimate? Certainly the lefties here think so, but so what?

Now the left is using this tragedy to lash out at those whom they believe have fostered the abreaction to their agenda. The last election was a stunning defeat for the forces of liberalism in America and you folks aren't particularly good at dealing with such a set back. So you are hammering away at the people you love to hate and looking really foolish in the process.

We will continue to have talk about resisting our government. The left will continue to decry this.

Oh well.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 11, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Clearly the right's violent rhetoric will continue (and probably increase) now that they have evidence that it produces the results they desire: the elimination of their political enemies.

Posted by: getjiggly2 | January 12, 2011 1:56 AM | Report abuse

@KaddafiDelendaEst

I find your assumption of my sympathy for Kaddafi even more amusing and eagerly await your denunciation of violent rhetoric.

Posted by: kmy042 | January 12, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

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