On Friday, former President Bill Clinton gave a speech commemorating the 15th anniversary of the tragic Oklahoma City bombing, drawing disturbing parallels between that incident and the current atmosphere of right-wing, anti-government hatred. He warned public officials and members of the media to be responsible with their rhetoric, since it could fall on the ears of someone as disturbed as Timothy McVeigh:
But what we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or we should reduce our passion for the positions that we hold, but the words we use really do matter because there are — there’s this vast echo chamber, and they go across space, and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody, but one of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have, and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.
Yesterday in a speech to the Chicago Tea Party Patriots, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that Clinton was trying to “take [her] out.” She said that during his speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund — which was a “celebration” of the Oklahoma City bombing — he went after her for her “gangster government” rhetoric:
BACHMANN: They said that Bill Clinton gave a speech yesterday — the former president — at the Center for American Progress, John Podesta’s group. He gave a speech, and he called me out in his speech, and he was talking about the anniversary — Now, only Democrats would do this. The anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing by Tim McVeigh. I mean, we don’t celebrate these things. This is not what we celebrate. So he was at this celebration, supposedly.
So he brought me up, and he was talking about how all of the extremist rhetoric in the early 90s led to Tim McVeigh. See, it had nothing to do with Tim McVeigh; it was the conservatives. That’s what the problem was. So he was making the analogy that Michele Bachmann had made a statement the day before during the Tea Party rally that what Barack Obama is doing is gangster government. And he said because I am using a term like “gangster government,” I’m responsible for creating the kind of climate of hate that could lead to another Tim McVeigh and another Oklahoma City-style bombing. How do you like them apples? So I decided, “Well, this is going to be fun.” I am nothing. I am on the bottom of the food chain. I’m in the minority party, I’m in my second term as a congresswoman, and the former president of the United States decides I’m important enough to take out.
She reiterated that “this is a gangster government, there is no two ways about it.” Watch it:
First of all, Clinton never mentioned Bachmann or “gangster government” in his CAP speech. He did, however, mention the rhetoric in an interview with the New York Times, saying that such blanket demonization of government workers is unacceptable after the Oklahoma City bombing, in which McVeigh was driven by a blind anti-government hatred that targeted innocent public servants. McVeigh said that he was fine killing those victims because they “represent that government.”
Moreover, it’s offensive for Bachmann to claim that the CAP event at which Clinton spoke was a “celebration” of the Oklahoma City tragedy. After all, the man who introduced Clinton at the event was Michael Reyes, a government employee whose father perished in the bombing. In his speech, Clinton repeatedly recounted the profound effect the event had on him, noting, “Three hundred buildings were damaged, 30 children lost both parents, 170 children lost one and 19 children themselves were killed. In the immediate response, there was an amazing set of acts of humanity and heroism.”
Finally, it’s completely inaccurate to say that Clinton wasn’t putting any blame on McVeigh himself. His point was that McVeigh was very troubled and “profoundly alienated,” and therefore “highly vulnerable to the suggestions and implications of the most militant rhetoric at the time.” That type of anti-government rhetoric is indeed increasingly prevalent, and as Clinton said, “the more responsibility you have, you have to think about the echo chamber in which your words resonate.”