In a New York Times op-ed piece, Bill Clinton explains the ideological roots of the bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City 15 years ago today:
We should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to
American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, the second anniversary of the assault of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty.
Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence—or the threat of violence—when we don't get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom.
If our government is not the greatest threat to our freedom, what is? Recognizing that reality is not tantamount to believing that all government employees abuse our rights (though many of them do). Nor is it a justification for murder. Our founders constructed a system of government that was strictly limited, based on an understanding of power's corrupting influence. If it is irrational to fear overweening government, and if that fear predictably leads to violence, the Framers were loony rabble-rousers.
Note that Clinton does not have the guts to say outright that people who criticize the government too harshly have blood on their hands. Instead he strongly suggests it, then retreats to the position that criticism is OK, though violence isn't, as if anyone were suggesting otherwise. Still, he wants to draw a line between "criticizing a policy or a politician," which is "part of the lifeblood of democracy," and "demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws," which encourages mass homicide. But since he offers no examples of either, it's hard to know what sort of speech he considers beyond the pale. For example, if I call Clinton a state-worshiping crybaby who equates opposition with sedition, is that legitimate criticism or demonization?
Last week Michael Moynihan discussed Clinton's condemnation of "hard-core, anti-government radicals."