Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oklahoma City

The Irresponsible Search for Bomb Scapegoats

It was probably too much to hope that the chattering classes would keep their desire to spin the tragedy in Boston in check for long. Filling the air and the Web with copy in the absence of any real information about who is responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon places a real burden on those who comment about such things to avoid sending the discussion off the deep end. Though there are some exceptions, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (who couldn’t wait to speculate about the bombs being planted by radical right-wingers), it is a test that many are still managing to pass. With alerts about letters with toxins arriving at the Senate and the White House and worries growing about any possible connections to the terror attack, the need for the media to behave responsibly is greater than ever.

As I wrote yesterday, the eagerness to put Boston in the service of some political agenda is palpable. Those who are going off the tracks by engaging in pointless and inflammatory speculation unconnected with the facts don’t merit the attention that a refutation would give them. But in the absence of any way to start blaming the event on some group, some are beginning the process of spinning the possible scenarios already. An example of that came in an article published last night in Salon by David Sirota, in which he expresses the hope that “the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” The conceit of this inflammatory piece is that a white American terrorist would be treated as a “lone wolf” whose actions would have no implications on policy or society while a Muslim bomber would be thought of as an existential threat to the country.

The point of this seems to be to claim that an Islamist bomber would set off another backlash against Muslim-Americans such as the one that is alleged to have occurred after 9/11. But Sirota is wrong both about that mythical backlash and about the way white bombers such as Timothy McVeigh are interpreted.

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It was probably too much to hope that the chattering classes would keep their desire to spin the tragedy in Boston in check for long. Filling the air and the Web with copy in the absence of any real information about who is responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon places a real burden on those who comment about such things to avoid sending the discussion off the deep end. Though there are some exceptions, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (who couldn’t wait to speculate about the bombs being planted by radical right-wingers), it is a test that many are still managing to pass. With alerts about letters with toxins arriving at the Senate and the White House and worries growing about any possible connections to the terror attack, the need for the media to behave responsibly is greater than ever.

As I wrote yesterday, the eagerness to put Boston in the service of some political agenda is palpable. Those who are going off the tracks by engaging in pointless and inflammatory speculation unconnected with the facts don’t merit the attention that a refutation would give them. But in the absence of any way to start blaming the event on some group, some are beginning the process of spinning the possible scenarios already. An example of that came in an article published last night in Salon by David Sirota, in which he expresses the hope that “the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” The conceit of this inflammatory piece is that a white American terrorist would be treated as a “lone wolf” whose actions would have no implications on policy or society while a Muslim bomber would be thought of as an existential threat to the country.

The point of this seems to be to claim that an Islamist bomber would set off another backlash against Muslim-Americans such as the one that is alleged to have occurred after 9/11. But Sirota is wrong both about that mythical backlash and about the way white bombers such as Timothy McVeigh are interpreted.

The reason why 9/11 was treated as an existential threat to America is that it was. The al-Qaeda campaign against the West, which included previous deadly attacks on the World Trade Center, U.S. embassies and naval ships, was part of a war that most Americans didn’t notice until 3,000 of their fellow citizens were slaughtered on U.S. soil.

But contrary to Sirota, this didn’t lead to a backlash of persecution against Muslims. From President Bush on down, the U.S. government went out of its way to combat prejudice and, unlike what has been the case in virtually every other war that was forced on America, negative images of Arabs and Muslims in popular culture were virtually unknown in the years that followed. Far from jumping on Muslims, the universal impulse after every homegrown Islamist act of terror, such as the mass shooting at Fort Hood, was to downplay the source of the crime and to pretend that it was unconnected to a particular interpretation of Islam.

Sirota is also wrong about his “lone wolf” thesis. The Oklahoma City bombing was not treated as the act of an individual but was widely imputed to conservatives in general, with Rush Limbaugh being unfairly smeared as somehow inspiring violent extremists in a transparent attempt by liberals to exploit that tragedy to undermine their opponents.

The point here is that we can expect, as Limbaugh noted yesterday, most Americans to be extremely reluctant to draw any conclusions about Muslims even if the Boston bombing or the letters are traced to Islamists. But it is far from clear that the same scrupulous reluctance to cast blame will be applied if the bomber is a right-winger. If Boston is traced to some militia crackpot, expect the liberal media to explode with accusations about the Tea Party.

The lesson here is that this is a time when pundits need to keep their powder dry and cease imputing blame for events when we still know nothing about the identity of the culprits. The desire to use Boston to pile on political enemies is almost irresistible for some people. But it should be resisted.

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The Cynicism and Intellectual Corruption of the Left

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.” Read More

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.”

Think about the formulation for a moment: “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point.” The important point isn’t the dead or the wounded; it’s Fox News, Sarah Palin, and conservative talk radio. Blaming conservatives, you see, is the storyline Packer, the New York Times, and scores of other liberal commentators have settled on. They have decided on their narrative; inconvenient facts — also known as reality — cannot get in the way of their crusade.

This is all very postmodern, a simplistic version of deconstructionism. What is on display is a cast of mind in which facts and reality are secondary to storylines and narratives. The aim is not truth; it is to advance The Cause. It is also about cynical exploitation. As one veteran Democratic operative told Politico, the Obama White House needs to “deftly pin this on the tea partiers” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.

It is all quite sick, really. Not a few liberals are attempting to use a human tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. They are using dead and broken bodies as political pawns. The blood was still flowing from the gunshot wounds of slain and wounded people in Tucson as liberals began an extraordinary and instantaneous smear campaign. It will end up making our political discourse even more angry and toxic.

I was naïve enough to be surprised at what has unfolded in the last 48 hours. The cynicism and intellectual corruption on the left is deeper than I imagined.

Lesson learned.

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Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

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James J. Kilpatrick, R.I.P.

When I was a young teenager in the 1970s, and just beginning to enjoy the local paper’s editorial page, I flipped past everything else to read the columns of James J. Kilpatrick. He wrote frequently for National Review, where the members of the fabled staff called him “Kilpo.” I sent a letter or two his way, care of one periodical or another, back in the days when typing laboriously on a fresh sheet of paper seemed very grown-up and important. He was kind enough to send me a handwritten answer on one occasion. Kilpatrick was born and raised in Oklahoma City, where I spent a number of my early years; but more than that, he was acerbic, illuminating, and entertaining about language and politics.

Many will remember him as the conservative debater on the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of 60 Minutes, a position he occupied from 1971 to 1979. In the quarter-century following his departure from 60 Minutes, he carved out a unique niche in the conservative punditry as an acute observer of the Supreme Court. But his first loves were obviously writing and language, and it’s for his columns on those topics — and his indispensable 1985 book, The Writer’s Art — that I remember him best.

Authors of books should not underestimate the impact they have on readers. I suspect The Writer’s Art will outlive Kilpatrick’s other contributions to our shared intellectual landscape. It is as fresh, sprightly, instructive, and funny today as it was when I bought my dog-eared copy 25 years ago. Someone has to write about writing, but not everyone makes the forensic examination an adventure. The Writer’s Art is Exhibit A in my case that Kilpatrick deserved to have his literary quirks and preferences respected — and his inconsistencies overlooked — simply because he wrote so well.

There were inconsistencies, of course. In later life, Kilpatrick urged all-out war on the semicolon, a punctuation device with which The Writer’s Art is absolutely stuffed. He rethought some of his early political ideas too: he made his name in the civil rights era as a defender of states’ rights and local sovereignty, wedding this theme with the then-respectable argument that school segregation was appropriate for the conditions of the American South. Eventually, he changed his mind on the segregation issue. Wikipedia now refers to him simply as a “segregationist,” a characterization that poignantly elides decades’ worth of serious constitutional debate and erects a victor’s monument on the unmarked grave of federalism.

But Kilpatrick rose to fame in that earlier time and was a product of it. His crotchets, like his on-screen demeanor and his political arguments, were courtly and engaging. He could eviscerate writing without denigrating the writer, a civilized skill rare in any age. He wrote about politics unhaunted by the fear of being soundbitten and misrepresented, a member of perhaps the last American generation to do so. He was the living antithesis of “snark.”

A passage I have long remembered from The Writer’s Art serves as a fitting coda to a consummate writer’s life:

Let me make the point and pass on: If you would write emotionally, be first unemotional. If you would move your readers to tears, do not let them see you cry.

I don’t think he ever did.

When I was a young teenager in the 1970s, and just beginning to enjoy the local paper’s editorial page, I flipped past everything else to read the columns of James J. Kilpatrick. He wrote frequently for National Review, where the members of the fabled staff called him “Kilpo.” I sent a letter or two his way, care of one periodical or another, back in the days when typing laboriously on a fresh sheet of paper seemed very grown-up and important. He was kind enough to send me a handwritten answer on one occasion. Kilpatrick was born and raised in Oklahoma City, where I spent a number of my early years; but more than that, he was acerbic, illuminating, and entertaining about language and politics.

Many will remember him as the conservative debater on the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of 60 Minutes, a position he occupied from 1971 to 1979. In the quarter-century following his departure from 60 Minutes, he carved out a unique niche in the conservative punditry as an acute observer of the Supreme Court. But his first loves were obviously writing and language, and it’s for his columns on those topics — and his indispensable 1985 book, The Writer’s Art — that I remember him best.

Authors of books should not underestimate the impact they have on readers. I suspect The Writer’s Art will outlive Kilpatrick’s other contributions to our shared intellectual landscape. It is as fresh, sprightly, instructive, and funny today as it was when I bought my dog-eared copy 25 years ago. Someone has to write about writing, but not everyone makes the forensic examination an adventure. The Writer’s Art is Exhibit A in my case that Kilpatrick deserved to have his literary quirks and preferences respected — and his inconsistencies overlooked — simply because he wrote so well.

There were inconsistencies, of course. In later life, Kilpatrick urged all-out war on the semicolon, a punctuation device with which The Writer’s Art is absolutely stuffed. He rethought some of his early political ideas too: he made his name in the civil rights era as a defender of states’ rights and local sovereignty, wedding this theme with the then-respectable argument that school segregation was appropriate for the conditions of the American South. Eventually, he changed his mind on the segregation issue. Wikipedia now refers to him simply as a “segregationist,” a characterization that poignantly elides decades’ worth of serious constitutional debate and erects a victor’s monument on the unmarked grave of federalism.

But Kilpatrick rose to fame in that earlier time and was a product of it. His crotchets, like his on-screen demeanor and his political arguments, were courtly and engaging. He could eviscerate writing without denigrating the writer, a civilized skill rare in any age. He wrote about politics unhaunted by the fear of being soundbitten and misrepresented, a member of perhaps the last American generation to do so. He was the living antithesis of “snark.”

A passage I have long remembered from The Writer’s Art serves as a fitting coda to a consummate writer’s life:

Let me make the point and pass on: If you would write emotionally, be first unemotional. If you would move your readers to tears, do not let them see you cry.

I don’t think he ever did.

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Former Clinton Officials Pessimistic About November

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Oops — maybe we shouldn’t have pulled our missile defenses out of the Czech Republic and Poland. “The stated rationale at the time was: Since the sites were intended to defend America and our allies from Iranian missiles, and our intelligence estimated that the Iranians were a long way from fielding such missiles, the sites were unnecessary. Now, this was a transparently flimsy excuse even at the time. … But the story gets even fishier. A new estimate sent from the Defense Department to Capitol Hill puts the date at which Iran could threaten the U.S. homeland with a ballistic missile at 2015.”

Oops – Gallup delivers some bad news to the Obami (but then again, they say they don’t look at polls): “President Barack Obama averaged 48.8% job approval for his fifth quarter in office, spanning Jan. 20-April 19 Gallup Daily tracking. That is the lowest of his presidency to date, though not appreciably worse than his 50.8% fourth quarter average. … Obama’s latest quarterly score of 48.8% is below average by historical standards, ranking in the 35th percentile of all presidential quarters for which Gallup has data, dating to 1945. The average historical quarterly approval average is 54%. Additionally, Obama’s latest quarterly average does not compare favorably to other elected presidents’ averages at similar points in their presidencies.”

Oops — message confusion: “Wall Street provided three of Obama’s seven biggest sources of contributors for his presidential bid. In 2007 and 2008, Goldman Sachs employees and family members gave him $994,795, Citigroup Inc. $701,290, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. $695,132.”

Oops — for those who vouched for Obama’s pro-Israel credentials: “Israel’s defense minister expressed concern Monday about deteriorating relations with the United States and warned that ‘the growing alienation’ with President Obama’s administration ‘is not a good thing for the state of Israel.’ … As for reports that the Obama administration might try to impose some sort of peace plan on the Israelis and Palestinians, Netanyahu said, ‘I don’t believe anyone will seriously think you can impose peace. Peace has to come from the parties sitting down with each other and resolving their differences.’”

Oops — apparently no one really likes Charlie Crist. From Public Policy Polling: “It’s his fall with Republicans that gets all the attention, but Charlie Crist’s poll numbers have declined almost as badly with Democrats and independents over the last year as they have within his own party. And that makes me doubt he would be successful in an independent Senate bid even if he did decide to make a run for it.”

Oops — Bill Clinton’s cover is blown. “Mr. Clinton’s opposition to ‘demonizing the government’ would be more credible had he been heard from on the subject during the first eight years after he left office—when, for example, Hollywood demonized George W. Bush by releasing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ or when Mr. Clinton’s own former Vice President railed against the man who beat him in 2000: ‘He betrayed this country!’ Instead, Mr. Clinton’s effort to exploit the memory of Oklahoma City looks like a partisan cheap shot. In his speech last week, the former President observed that, unlike the Boston Tea Party, ‘this fight is about taxation by duly, honestly elected representatives that you don’t happen to agree with, that you can vote out at the next election.’ Our guess is that the next election is what he’s really afraid of.”

Oops — an inconvenient truth for climate-change fanatics: “Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans now believe there is a significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, up seven points from early December just after the so-called ‘Climategate’ scandal involving doctored or deliberately undisclosed scientific evidence first broke.”

Oops– a crack in the Eric Holder stonewall: “For nearly a year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the Department of Justice’s voluntary dismissal of a voter intimidation suit against the New Black Panther Party and some of its members. On Friday morning of this week, the commission will conduct a public hearing on the matter. A number of witnesses are expected to testify concerning the incident that gave rise to DOJ’s lawsuit. A second hearing will likely take place in May to adduce additional evidence from the DOJ. The commission will issue a report on its findings to the president and Congress in the next few months.”

Oops — maybe we shouldn’t have pulled our missile defenses out of the Czech Republic and Poland. “The stated rationale at the time was: Since the sites were intended to defend America and our allies from Iranian missiles, and our intelligence estimated that the Iranians were a long way from fielding such missiles, the sites were unnecessary. Now, this was a transparently flimsy excuse even at the time. … But the story gets even fishier. A new estimate sent from the Defense Department to Capitol Hill puts the date at which Iran could threaten the U.S. homeland with a ballistic missile at 2015.”

Oops – Gallup delivers some bad news to the Obami (but then again, they say they don’t look at polls): “President Barack Obama averaged 48.8% job approval for his fifth quarter in office, spanning Jan. 20-April 19 Gallup Daily tracking. That is the lowest of his presidency to date, though not appreciably worse than his 50.8% fourth quarter average. … Obama’s latest quarterly score of 48.8% is below average by historical standards, ranking in the 35th percentile of all presidential quarters for which Gallup has data, dating to 1945. The average historical quarterly approval average is 54%. Additionally, Obama’s latest quarterly average does not compare favorably to other elected presidents’ averages at similar points in their presidencies.”

Oops — message confusion: “Wall Street provided three of Obama’s seven biggest sources of contributors for his presidential bid. In 2007 and 2008, Goldman Sachs employees and family members gave him $994,795, Citigroup Inc. $701,290, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. $695,132.”

Oops — for those who vouched for Obama’s pro-Israel credentials: “Israel’s defense minister expressed concern Monday about deteriorating relations with the United States and warned that ‘the growing alienation’ with President Obama’s administration ‘is not a good thing for the state of Israel.’ … As for reports that the Obama administration might try to impose some sort of peace plan on the Israelis and Palestinians, Netanyahu said, ‘I don’t believe anyone will seriously think you can impose peace. Peace has to come from the parties sitting down with each other and resolving their differences.’”

Oops — apparently no one really likes Charlie Crist. From Public Policy Polling: “It’s his fall with Republicans that gets all the attention, but Charlie Crist’s poll numbers have declined almost as badly with Democrats and independents over the last year as they have within his own party. And that makes me doubt he would be successful in an independent Senate bid even if he did decide to make a run for it.”

Oops — Bill Clinton’s cover is blown. “Mr. Clinton’s opposition to ‘demonizing the government’ would be more credible had he been heard from on the subject during the first eight years after he left office—when, for example, Hollywood demonized George W. Bush by releasing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ or when Mr. Clinton’s own former Vice President railed against the man who beat him in 2000: ‘He betrayed this country!’ Instead, Mr. Clinton’s effort to exploit the memory of Oklahoma City looks like a partisan cheap shot. In his speech last week, the former President observed that, unlike the Boston Tea Party, ‘this fight is about taxation by duly, honestly elected representatives that you don’t happen to agree with, that you can vote out at the next election.’ Our guess is that the next election is what he’s really afraid of.”

Oops — an inconvenient truth for climate-change fanatics: “Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans now believe there is a significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, up seven points from early December just after the so-called ‘Climategate’ scandal involving doctored or deliberately undisclosed scientific evidence first broke.”

Oops– a crack in the Eric Holder stonewall: “For nearly a year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the Department of Justice’s voluntary dismissal of a voter intimidation suit against the New Black Panther Party and some of its members. On Friday morning of this week, the commission will conduct a public hearing on the matter. A number of witnesses are expected to testify concerning the incident that gave rise to DOJ’s lawsuit. A second hearing will likely take place in May to adduce additional evidence from the DOJ. The commission will issue a report on its findings to the president and Congress in the next few months.”

Read Less

Bill Clinton’s Double Standard on Rhetoric

The Big Dog has slipped his leash again.

Bill Clinton began a concerted attack on the Tea Party movement in the New York Times late last week:

With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing approaching, former President Bill Clinton… drew parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today, saying government critics must be mindful that angry words can stir violent actions…  “There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.”… Mr. Clinton said his intent was not to stifle debate or muzzle critics of the government but to encourage them to consider what repercussions could follow. He acknowledged that drawing the line between acceptable discourse and that which goes too far is difficult but that lawmakers and other officials should try.

“Have at it,” he said. “You can attack the politics. Criticize their policies. Don’t demonize them, and don’t say things that will encourage violent opposition.”

Then, at an event for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, he said this:

What we learned from Oklahoma City 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, 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.

As you would expect from Mr. Clinton, his words are both sophisticated and slick. There is even some truth to them. Words have meaning, and context matters. Public officials in particular should be careful not to exploit passions that can become harmful. There’s no rulebook that tells us which slang phrases and locutions are clever and which are inflammatory. Things that may be fine in one context might not be so in another. We have to rely on common sense and good judgment.

The problem for Mr. Clinton is that his concern about the dangers of incendiary rhetoric seems to have taken flight during the two terms of the Bush presidency, as well as during his own. Regarding the former, there was, for starters, the 2006 film, The Death of a President, on the assassination of President Bush. Mr. Clinton did not, to my knowledge, condemn the movie in a front-page story in the New York Times or in a major speech.

Moreover, George W. Bush was, during his two terms in office, routinely called a war criminal, an international terrorist, and compared to Hitler [see a photo gallery here and here]. Signs with bullet holes in Bush’s forehead, with blood running down his face, were all part of the fun and games. The president was accused of moral cowardice by Al Gore, of being a liar and the anti-Christ, and of being a totalitarian and dictatorial leader. Members of Congress such as Keith Ellison compared the attacks on September 11 to the Reichstag fire.

This was all pretty common fare during the Bush presidency. Yet Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, remained silent, apparently unconcerned that such words would fall on the serious and the delirious, the connected and the unhinged, at the same time. And many of Mr. Clinton’s fellow Democrats, including his vice president, said words that encouraged the worst elements and instincts of the haters and the loons.

The Tea Party protests, in terms of the level of hate speech and the placards and signs used, don’t hold a candle to the anti-war protests we witnessed during the Bush years. Yet for some inexplicable reason — inexplicable because we all know the press and the political class are fantastically free of bias — the hate directed against Bush didn’t receive anything like the scrutiny the Tea Party is receiving.

It’s also worth recalling that the Clinton administration organized, coordinated, and participated in some of the ugliest rhetoric we have seen in recent American politics. I have in mind, for example, the campaign against Judge Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel during the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation. The Clinton team said Starr was a “spineless, gutless weasel” and “engaged in anti-constitutional destructiveness.” He was a “thug” and a “Grand Inquisitor for life.” His tactics were “frightening,” “vicious,” and “lawless.” His investigation was an “inquisition,” “smacks of Gestapo,” and “outstrips McCarthyism.” He was acting “irresponsibility, illegally.” Starr was “undermining the very integrity of the criminal-justice system.” The office of independent counsel was filled with “a crew of prosecutorial pirates” and Starr was using “instruments of intimidation and smear without restraint.”

And now Mr. Clinton is preaching to us about not demonizing our opponents and about the importance of not crossing rhetorical lines. Can a Clinton sermon on the importance of fidelity and the gift of celibacy be far behind?

The level of concern and consternation that is being directed at the Tea Party movement is hard to take seriously given the blinding double standard at play. When Bush was president and greater hate was directed at him than is today directed at Obama, the narrative was that this was a sign of Bush’s divisiveness. In those days dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Today, with Obama as president, everything is reversed. Obama is the victim, not the divider; dissent is viewed as sedition.

I have no problem at all condemning the Tea Party movement if it crosses lines of civility and reason. But the hypocrisy at play here is discrediting.

In a deeper sense, the impulse on display here is, despite what Clinton says, illiberal. The end game for many Tea Party critics isn’t to silence a few nuts in a movement comprising millions of people; it is to discredit the movement itself. It is to silence the overwhelming number of decent people who comprise the Tea Party movement by attaching them to the hip with haters and kooks.

This tactic will, I think, backfire. We are seeing a huge, lawful, civic uprising against the Obama agenda — and to slander people as clones of Timothy McVeigh will only add kindling wood and kerosene to this bonfire.

Liberals and the Democratic Party are losing virtually every substantive debate on the issues. It is blowing their circuits. And so they are left to resort to libel, to portray Tea Party participants as Timothy McVeighs in waiting. There will be a high price to pay for this ugly and petty tactic, beginning with the first Tuesday in November.

The Big Dog has slipped his leash again.

Bill Clinton began a concerted attack on the Tea Party movement in the New York Times late last week:

With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing approaching, former President Bill Clinton… drew parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today, saying government critics must be mindful that angry words can stir violent actions…  “There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.”… Mr. Clinton said his intent was not to stifle debate or muzzle critics of the government but to encourage them to consider what repercussions could follow. He acknowledged that drawing the line between acceptable discourse and that which goes too far is difficult but that lawmakers and other officials should try.

“Have at it,” he said. “You can attack the politics. Criticize their policies. Don’t demonize them, and don’t say things that will encourage violent opposition.”

Then, at an event for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, he said this:

What we learned from Oklahoma City 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, 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.

As you would expect from Mr. Clinton, his words are both sophisticated and slick. There is even some truth to them. Words have meaning, and context matters. Public officials in particular should be careful not to exploit passions that can become harmful. There’s no rulebook that tells us which slang phrases and locutions are clever and which are inflammatory. Things that may be fine in one context might not be so in another. We have to rely on common sense and good judgment.

The problem for Mr. Clinton is that his concern about the dangers of incendiary rhetoric seems to have taken flight during the two terms of the Bush presidency, as well as during his own. Regarding the former, there was, for starters, the 2006 film, The Death of a President, on the assassination of President Bush. Mr. Clinton did not, to my knowledge, condemn the movie in a front-page story in the New York Times or in a major speech.

Moreover, George W. Bush was, during his two terms in office, routinely called a war criminal, an international terrorist, and compared to Hitler [see a photo gallery here and here]. Signs with bullet holes in Bush’s forehead, with blood running down his face, were all part of the fun and games. The president was accused of moral cowardice by Al Gore, of being a liar and the anti-Christ, and of being a totalitarian and dictatorial leader. Members of Congress such as Keith Ellison compared the attacks on September 11 to the Reichstag fire.

This was all pretty common fare during the Bush presidency. Yet Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, remained silent, apparently unconcerned that such words would fall on the serious and the delirious, the connected and the unhinged, at the same time. And many of Mr. Clinton’s fellow Democrats, including his vice president, said words that encouraged the worst elements and instincts of the haters and the loons.

The Tea Party protests, in terms of the level of hate speech and the placards and signs used, don’t hold a candle to the anti-war protests we witnessed during the Bush years. Yet for some inexplicable reason — inexplicable because we all know the press and the political class are fantastically free of bias — the hate directed against Bush didn’t receive anything like the scrutiny the Tea Party is receiving.

It’s also worth recalling that the Clinton administration organized, coordinated, and participated in some of the ugliest rhetoric we have seen in recent American politics. I have in mind, for example, the campaign against Judge Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel during the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation. The Clinton team said Starr was a “spineless, gutless weasel” and “engaged in anti-constitutional destructiveness.” He was a “thug” and a “Grand Inquisitor for life.” His tactics were “frightening,” “vicious,” and “lawless.” His investigation was an “inquisition,” “smacks of Gestapo,” and “outstrips McCarthyism.” He was acting “irresponsibility, illegally.” Starr was “undermining the very integrity of the criminal-justice system.” The office of independent counsel was filled with “a crew of prosecutorial pirates” and Starr was using “instruments of intimidation and smear without restraint.”

And now Mr. Clinton is preaching to us about not demonizing our opponents and about the importance of not crossing rhetorical lines. Can a Clinton sermon on the importance of fidelity and the gift of celibacy be far behind?

The level of concern and consternation that is being directed at the Tea Party movement is hard to take seriously given the blinding double standard at play. When Bush was president and greater hate was directed at him than is today directed at Obama, the narrative was that this was a sign of Bush’s divisiveness. In those days dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Today, with Obama as president, everything is reversed. Obama is the victim, not the divider; dissent is viewed as sedition.

I have no problem at all condemning the Tea Party movement if it crosses lines of civility and reason. But the hypocrisy at play here is discrediting.

In a deeper sense, the impulse on display here is, despite what Clinton says, illiberal. The end game for many Tea Party critics isn’t to silence a few nuts in a movement comprising millions of people; it is to discredit the movement itself. It is to silence the overwhelming number of decent people who comprise the Tea Party movement by attaching them to the hip with haters and kooks.

This tactic will, I think, backfire. We are seeing a huge, lawful, civic uprising against the Obama agenda — and to slander people as clones of Timothy McVeigh will only add kindling wood and kerosene to this bonfire.

Liberals and the Democratic Party are losing virtually every substantive debate on the issues. It is blowing their circuits. And so they are left to resort to libel, to portray Tea Party participants as Timothy McVeighs in waiting. There will be a high price to pay for this ugly and petty tactic, beginning with the first Tuesday in November.

Read Less




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