Instapundit reports that Bill Clinton thinks…well, it’s not entirely clear what he thinks. Basically, it’s like, “If you’re angry at runaway government power, you’re probably not a would-be terrorist…really, I’d never insinuate any such thing…it’s just that real terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh were also angry at runaway government power…and therefore unless you embrace Big Government in all its benevolent, nurturing modalities, well, there’s no getting around it: you’re kind of enabling the next McVeigh, don’t you think? So don’t get on the Internet unless you’re going to sing hymns to Washington.”
You may recall that this is not the first time he’s used that maneuver. (Eric says of the Clintons, “To be kind about it, their gaffes [at least I think they're gaffes] keep coming!” That’s a much more comforting angle on things than that we’re seeing their authentic, unfiltered worldview.) One of Virginia Postrel’s most memorable columns from when she was editor of Reason was this one from 1995:
This is what the president of the United States said in a widely praised speech at Michigan State’s graduation: “I would like to say something to the paramilitary groups and to others who believe the greatest threat to America comes not from terrorists from within our country or beyond our borders, but from our own government….I am well aware that most of you have never violated the law of the land. I welcome the comments that some of you have made recently condemning the bombing in Oklahoma City….But I also know there have been lawbreakers among those who espouse your philosophy.” (Emphasis added.)
“There have been lawbreakers among those who espouse your philosophy.” Clinton may start with the “to be sures”—acknowledging that his nameless opponents are law-abiding and condemn the bombing—but he ends with guilt by association. Anyone who “believe[s] the greatest threat to America” comes from the government might as well be a terrorist. After all, they’re on the same philosophical team.
Just who is purveying hate and division now? Just who is using wild words? Just who is paranoid, spinning out conspiracy theories built on blurring distinctions and imagining “links”?
He then cleverly moves the argument from whether government power is something to be feared–obviously not, since the problem is a few rotten workers–to whether violence against public employees is justified. Here, he lumps together “people who are doing their duty” (the Nuremberg defense), people who are “minding their own business,” and “children who are innocent in every way.”
It’s not clear who advocates killing any of these people under current conditions. But at least in theory they are distinguishable. One can imagine circumstances under which self-defense might be justified against the first group; it’s hard to conjure up rationales for attacking either of the other two. But Clinton’s rhetorical mode is to blur distinctions.
And to smear by innuendo. By never specifying whom he is attacking—Who exactly claims the right to kill “children who are innocent in every way”? Who claims the right to kill “the people who perished in Oklahoma City”?—Clinton manages to call all of his political opponents murderers and then say he didn’t.
He accomplished the same thing with his vague attack on “loud and angry voices.” Was he talking about all conservative and libertarian talk radio hosts? G. Gordon Liddy? Or just conspiracy theorists like “Mark from Michigan”? He was in fact smearing them all, but preserving his deniability.
Edifying, huh? Virginia’s conclusion remains the right one:
Such tactics must not work. Loud voices are not the same as violent deeds. Criticism is not the same as murder. Exposing government violence is not the same as blowing up buildings. It is grossly irresponsible to blur these distinctions. And those who rely on such smear tactics are in no position to lecture the rest of us about toning down rhetoric.
In fact, wide-open debate is the best chance for restraining violent impulses. Contrary to the Los Angeles Times editorialists, hearings on Waco would be a very good idea, especially now. Information is the enemy both of out-of-control government and of paranoia. Vigorous, open dissent is a powerful check on government excesses—and an important, peaceful outlet for citizen grievances.
Of course, that argument only has heft if you believe government excesses should be checked.