Given the circumstances, no other three-word combination would have sufficed: “How Dare You?”
That was part of the response from former President Bill Clinton, when confronted by hecklers at a Hillary 2008 fundraising event in Minneapolis.
The story went like this: after making a late start with what turned out to be his approximately fifty-minute speech, Clinton was rudely interrupted by several hecklers in the audience who began shouting at him, and over him, and claiming that the terrorist attacks of 2001 were a “fraud.“
Even if you haven’t seen the video, it’s not difficult to imagine how this could have played-out. Our former President could have easily ignored the hecklers, or could have easily remained silent for a second or two, and allowed them to be cleared away by security officials - - and then could have continued right along with his remarks.
But instead, President Clinton chose to confront the hecklers head-on.
In the face of the “fraud” claim, Clinton confronted them directly. “A fraud?” No it wasn’t a fraud!” he shot back, as the crowd began to cheer him on. “I’ll be glad to talk to you” Clinton stated, trying to bring closure to the interruption, “if you shut up and let me talk.”
As he then attempted to continue with his address, another heckler shouted at President Clinton, claiming that the terrorist attacks had been an “inside job.”
“An inside job?” Clinton retorted, with indignation in his voice. “How dare you. How dare you! It was NOT an inside job!”
In a matter of a few seconds, former President Clinton used a spontaneous moment with rude people in his midst to communicate to a fearful, skeptical American people. What was the message he conveyed? That the worst suspicions about our country and government are not to be tolerated, and certainly not to be believed.
To the skeptic who suggested that the terrorist attacks of 2001 were somehow phony, Clinton made it clear that there was nothing phony at all about “Nine-Eleven.”
To the selfish individual who thought nothing of interrupting an American President for his own personal agenda, Clinton said “shut up and let me talk.”
And to the person so cynical about America as to assert that our nation’s government perpetrated the terrorist attacks on its own people, Clinton’s message was quite clear indeed: don’t you dare say such things about our country. Implicitly, he was conveying to America that as a nation, we are better than the insinuations were suggesting, and we are worthy of greater respect.
Things would be quite different, for example, if our current President were willing to be so confrontational with those who willingly violate our nation’s border laws.
And imagine how different things might be if Hillary Rodham Clinton were willing to confront her fellow Democrats in Congress, when they insinuate that our military service men and women are torturers, terrorists, and failures.
Bill Clinton’s presidency was far from flawless, and no doubt he still suffers with his own credibility gap today. But he also understands the power of words, and how to use them, far better than most politicians.
Let’s hope that our next President knows how and when to communicate more effectively - - and is willing to say “how dare you” from time to time.