Former president Clinton reminds us, on the 15th anniversary of the bombing in Oklahoma City, to police our discourse so as not to incite the “delirious” and “unhinged.” Timothy McVeigh, he notes, “took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated . . . by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government.”
This is only the latest and most high-profile installment of a long-running campaign by Democrats to malign their opposition. It worked very well for Mr. Clinton in 1995 — the baseless insinuation that right-wing radio hosts had ignited murderous rage with their intemperate rhetoric, for instance — and he’s reaching into that seedy toolbox again.
By citing “the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government” as the chief motive of murderous terrorists, the former president implies that resistance to government overreach and encroachment is illegitimate, the province of extremists.
There are two problems with this. First, it is perfectly true that government can be a threat to liberty. This is so obvious that it hardly bears rebutting. Two examples: the Alien and Sedition Acts; the internment of Japanese Americans. No one understood government’s capacity to constrain freedom better than the Founders, who designed a system so diffuse and balanced that power would be difficult (though not impossible) to abuse.
The second problem with Mr. Clinton’s intimation is that his pious concern about a “vocal minority” protesting government threats to freedom was nowhere in evidence during the Bush administration, when many liberal commentators were caterwauling that President Bush was “shredding” the Constitution. A “vocal minority” certainly believed that the government was the greatest threat to American liberty (they thought Bush a far greater threat than Islamic extremism) — but their saying so didn’t trouble Mr. Clinton.
Nor was Clinton moved to speak out when anti-Bush protesters labeled him the world’s “worst terrorist” and carried posters of the president wearing a Hitler moustache.
You can delegitimize any political speech you dislike by suggesting that it may inflame the violence-prone. The press attempts this again and again. Rather than openly debate, they smear. The 1994 election, which unseated the Democratic majority, was described by the press, without any evidence, as the eruption of “angry, white, male” voters. One fan out of 8,000 at a McCain/Palin rally was reported to have shouted “Kill him” in reference to Obama. Rafts of stories dwelt upon this revelation of the “ugly” side of Palinmania. A later investigation found no evidence that it had even happened. And, of course, the tea-party movement, a spontaneous, widespread upwelling of grassroots dismay at the direction of government policy, has been falsely and savagely maligned as racist, violent, and primitive. (The best poster spotted at a tea-party rally: “It doesn’t matter what I put on my sign because you will accuse me of racism anyway.”)
Actually, Democrats are reduced to warning that certain attitudes can lead to violence because there hasn’t been any actual violence at the tea-party rallies. All have been remarkably orderly and even friendly. You can almost feel the Democrats’ frustration at this.
By contrast, many, many left-wing protests and demonstrations have sparked violence. Just last year, at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, rampaging protesters broke shop windows and scuffled with police, who used batons and tear gas to subdue them. A 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle was so badly disrupted by anti-globalization fanatics who smashed windows and shut down the center of the city that the governor had to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard. (President Clinton failed to assail those who criticize corporations as inspiring the violence.)
In 2007, several hundred protesters who descended on Washington, D.C., during the International Monetary Fund meeting turned over trash cans, smashed windows, threw bricks, and pushed a police officer off her motorcycle.
In 2008, as John Hinderaker of Power Line recalls, anti-Republican protesters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul “threw bricks through the windows of buses, sending elderly convention delegates to the hospital. They dropped bags of sand off highway overpasses onto vehicles below.” The violence was only fleetingly covered in the press and went unmentioned by leading Democrats.
Republicans have been very quick to condemn violent acts or even intemperate words by right-wing individuals or groups. They’ve even condemned some that didn’t happen — like the false account of racial slurs being shouted at members of the Congressional Black Caucus. While it’s important to police one’s ranks, it’s also necessary to expose the Democrats’ persistent and malignant libels.