Bill Clinton Returns to the Scene of the Crime

The fifteenth anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing has just passed, and the Democrats are seizing every opportunity to wring political advantage out of that sorrowful event. Bill Clinton appeared at a symposium on the bombing sponsored by a left-wing think tank and linked the mad bomber to today’s opponents of the Democrats’ radical agenda.
Just before the symposium, in an interview with the New York Times, Clinton elaborated on the theme:

“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.” …
Mr. Clinton pointed to remarks like those made Thursday by Representative Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican, who when speaking at a Tea Party rally in Washington characterized the Obama administration and Democratic Congress as “the gangster government.”
“They are not gangsters,” Mr. Clinton said. “They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do.”

As hockey fans like to say, that’s debatable. It’s worth noting, though, that the first person to use the phrase “gangster government” in reference to the Obama administration was not Congresswoman Bachmann, but the most sober of political commentators, Michael Barone. As we noted here, the context was the Chrysler bailout; specifically, the Obama administration’s bullying bondholders into giving up their legal rights through threats of federal reprisal. (Nice business you’ve got here; shame if anything were to happen to it.) That was, as Barone wrote, “an episode of Gangster Government.” Sadly, there have been others.
Byron York reminds us that Clinton has been down this path before, in most dishonorable fashion. The Oklahoma City bombing was providential for Clinton. It occurred at the low ebb of his Presidency, just the day after Clinton pathetically told reporters that “the president is still relevant here.” When the bombing occurred, Clinton and his aides immediately saw political potential. Pollster Dick Morris went to work, and, as Morris has written, just eight days after the Oklahoma City bombing he gave Clinton a strategy for a political comeback. Here was Morris’ agenda for the meeting:

A. Temporary gain: boost in ratings — here today, gone tomorrow
B. More permanent gain: Improvements in character/personality attributes — remedies weakness, incompetence, ineffectiveness found in recent poll
C. Permanent possible gain: sets up Extremist Issue vs. Republicans

Morris acknowledged one problem: the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. But that was an obstacle that could be overcome:

Morris told Clinton that “direct accusations” of extremism wouldn’t work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the “ricochet theory.” Clinton would “stimulate national concern over extremism and terror,” and then, “when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans.”

It worked:

It was a political strategy crafted while rescue and recovery efforts were still underway in Oklahoma City. And it worked better than Clinton or Morris could have predicted. In the months after the bombing, Clinton regained the upper hand over Republicans, eventually winning battles over issues far removed from the attack. The next year, 1996, he went on to re-election.

Clinton knows how false and dishonorable his charges are. But they worked for him, and he is helping Barack Obama set the stage for a similar political comeback in the event that some violent event might occur; or, perhaps, in the absence of any such event. So far, all of the violence associated with Tea Party or townhall events has been perpetrated by union thugs employed by the Democratic Party, but that hasn’t stopped the Democrats from claiming that it is the Republicans who are somehow violence-prone.
Glenn Reynolds draws the proper conclusion–a notably strong condemnation from an observer as balanced and good-humored as Glenn:

[T]his statement serves as a useful reminder to those who have come to think of Clinton as some sort of cuddly, not-so-bad figure. He was a demagogue who would say whatever he thought might work when he was President, and he still is.

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