Update: Rush Limbaugh reacts: "If there is a future incident such as Oklahoma City, the blame is squarely Clinton's."
In remarks made just three days prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, former President Bill Clinton warned at a symposium sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund that today's anti-government rhetoric could lead to the same kind of violent outcome.
"Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America," Clinton recalled. "The fabric of American life had been unraveling, more and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in. ... It is true that we see some of that today."
"What we learned from Oklahoma City," he went on, "is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter. ... They fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. ... And what we advocate, commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City."
Although Clinton praised conservatives for their consistent reminder "that no law can replace personal responsibility," he was clearly troubled by the threats of violence which followed the passage of health care reform. "Let them have at it," he said of the arguments over health care, "but I think that all you have to do is read the paper every day to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled."
Clinton's insistence that "words really do matter" may not be surprising, coming from the man who once quibbled over "what the meaning of the word 'is' is." The most interesting aspect of his remarks, however, may be the extent to which they served as a kind of Rorschach test for the news outlets covering them.
Fox News, for example, chose to headline their story, "Bill Clinton Warns Tea Party Anger Could Incite Right-Wing Extremism" and went so far as to claim that "Clinton appeared to draw implicit parallels between Tea Partiers .. and the far-right militia veterans that carried out the 1995 attack."
The New York Daily News, in contrast, ran with "Former President Clinton: Tea Party OK, but anti-Obama rage may inspire another Oklahoma bombing." The paper's writeup emphasized Clinton's statement that "this Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise and every dollar of money we've spent,"
But the greatest level of outrage was expressed in a blog entry at the highly conservative American Spectator, which seized on comments Clinton had made prior to the symposium, in an interview with the New York Times, to proclaim, "Clinton Uses Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing to Attack Michelle Bachmann."
Update: Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh reacted to Clinton's remarks by saying that if there were to be another Oklahoma City-type incident, it should be blamed on Clinton and President Obama.
"Clinton says that right-wing talk radio has made money off of anger, aided by the Internet," Limbaugh stated. "They just can't get away from it. We are living in their heads rent free. We are in their heads and on their minds. They -- and I'm going to throw the in there -- are out to destroy western civilization, folks. Why do you think the tea party people are so reviled? Why is it that we can sit there and accuse nonviolent tea party people of committing terrorist acts?"
"If there is a future incident such as Oklahoma City," Limbaugh continued, "the blame is squarely Clinton's, on the shoulders of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who I'm sure is coordinating Clinton's appearance on this. Bill Clinton, with the sound bite you just heard, just gave the kooks out there an excuse to be violent. He just offered them an opportunity to be violent. ... We cannot even say 'Islamic' and 'terrorists' in the same sentence! We cannot associate radical Islam with terrorism but the president can go out and Obama can go out and try to associate the tea party -- genuine, peace-loving, middle-American citizens of this country -- with future acts of terrorism?"