More than six years after he mercilessly killed 168 people with an ammonia bomb, Timothy McVeigh was put to death by the federal government he hated so much. The memory of his awful crime will not fade, thanks in part to a museum at the scene of his crime. But most people have probably forgotten how this tragedy was so shamelessly milked for political advantage by the American left.
It's an ironic twist. In recent months, McVeigh's most influential sympathizers haven't been the Michigan Militia crackpots that every network flocked to display in weekend warrior fatigues back in 1995. Instead it's been those bleeding hearts who wondered about the inhumanity of killing a remorseless mass murderer. Newsweek's Anna Quindlen begged for Bill Clinton to commute McVeigh's sentence, since all those on Death Row should be spared on principle, no matter how much pain and destruction they have wrought.
But six years ago, the media elite were painting McVeigh's terrorism as a natural extension of the "Republican revolution" of 1994; his Ryder-rental cataclysm would mark the end of any serious challenge to the emergence of ever-growing federal authority. Despite at least 100 days of malicious bias against the new Republican Congress and its Contract with America, reporters still dreaded what these emboldened legislators might accomplish. They shared Peter Jennings's belief that with the temper tantrum from the voters spent, it was time to put the dunce hat on the whole crowd, and make them sit in the corner and ponder the wrong they had committed on Election Day.
The Oklahoma City bombing gave these liberals the opportunity to break the anti-statist fever, the opportunity to chain all of American conservatism to the ankle of Timothy McVeigh. While crews were still clearing rubble, the left was mastering the possibilities. McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols would not be the only aggressors in this tale. Every Republican politician who had ever cast doubt on the omnicompetence of Washington ... every talk radio host who protested the punishment of tax increases ... every speechwriter who suggested that government was the problem, not the solution --
they killed those men, women and children in the Murrah Federal Building. If it was fair for Hollywood to typecast American soldiers in Vietnam as loving the smell of napalm in the morning, then it would be fair to wonder if these operatives were enjoying the whiff of ammonia a little too much.
On April 23, a sad Sunday morning just four days after the disaster, Sam Donaldson started suggesting that conservative rhetoric had contributed to a climate conducive to violence. Bob Schieffer seconded that emotion on CBS. By that evening, Bill Clinton had taken the strategists' advice and was blaming the "purveyors of hate and division" for the massacre. Psychic friend Bryant Gumbel named names two days later: Limbaugh, Liddy, Reagan, Grant and North were the high-volume horsemen of the apocalypse.
But the most obvious politician in the bull's-eye was Newt Gingrich. It wasn't enough to devote Time and Newsweek covers caricaturing him as Ebenezer Scrooge and "the Gingrich that stole Christmas." Whereas liberal legislative leaders were routinely presented as courageous lions, substantive solons and reasonable moderates, Gingrich was portrayed as the godfather of focus-grouped fanaticism. Time's Michael Kramer moved quickly to connect the dots between Oklahoma City and the Speaker's Office: "The burden of fostering their delusion is borne out not just by the nut cases that preach conspiracy but also to some extent by those who erode faith in our governance in the pursuit of their own ambitions."
But what had really happened to the tone of politics in the wake of this tragedy? The pundits who posed as opponents of conspiracy theory lumped together everyone to the right of Jim Jeffords into a murderous cabal. The party of government eroded faith in the decency of institutions by putting their own Carvillesque ambitions out in front of national unity.
McVeigh never received the treatment afforded another ideologically motivated bomber named Kaczynski, a man touted for his "tortured genius" and praised for his consistency in riding a bicycle to deliver anti-technology bombs to the post office. In McVeigh, who could so easily dismiss 19 dead children as "collateral damage," we saw unalloyed evil, nothing less.
He is no poster boy for enemies of capital punishment. He's simply a hard reminder of Satan's presence among us. May his fevered visions vanish with him, and may the noxious accusers of Newt and Rush, and every American who sees a limit to government hang their heads in shame.