As the nation reeled from news that a gunman had shot a group of Arizona citizens including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an all-too-predictable response emanated from some on the left. Despite news reports suggesting that the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was simply insane – a devotee of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler, who believed in mind control and “conscience dreaming,” and who was convinced he would become the treasurer of a new currency – many left-wingers sought to attribute his despicable acts to a conservative political agenda.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote, “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was.” Democrat Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey denounced “an aura of hate” fed “by certain people on Fox News.” The National Democratic Jewish Council insisted that “building levels of vitriol in our discourse . . . have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.” The local sheriff in Arizona, a Democrat, weighed in with his own political diagnosis, insisting that the shooting rampage was how “[unbalanced people] respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”
Those playing the blame game against all facts and logic are following a well-worn precedent. Anyone who remembers the Clinton years will recall that the then-President used the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse in April of 1995 as a way to discredit conservative talk radio – the voices that had just played a central role in helping Republicans retake the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years.
In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton condemned “loud and angry voices” in talk radio for “spreading hate and leaving the impression by their very words that violence is acceptable.” Thereafter, the Detroit Free Press published an interview with the President urging talk radio how hosts to reject all rhetoric “fostering hate and division and encouraging violence.”
The gambit succeeded in large measure for Clinton, slowing the momentum of the ’94 Republican revolution, putting conservatives on the defensive and allowing the then-President – who had been forced to assert his own relevance -- to retake the initiative. Given the political difficulties now confronting President Obama, who faces a newly-minted Republican majority in the House of Representatives after an electoral wipeout worse than 1994, it’s no wonder that some of his partisans would seek a page from the Oklahoma City playbook.
This time, however, they’re destined to fail. Here’s why: