Rush vs. Clinton: Who’s Right?

Former President Bill Clinton has sounded an alarm he has sounded before, warning that the intensity of the rhetoric on conservative radio emboldens fringe radicals to violence. As he did in 1995, when he was in the White House, Clinton lays the Oklahoma City bombing at the feet of big-government critics, a strategy that then managed to halt the momentum of Republicans in their assault on Democratic policies. Also as in 1995, King of the Radio Right Rush Limbaugh has countered that Clinton is using revisionist history to avoid his administration’s own responsibility for Timothy McVeigh’s attack, which wasn’t timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Branch Davidian massacre by accident. Limbaugh’s argument that the conduct of Federal agents in Waco (as well as Ruby Ridge) had a lot more to do with McVeigh’s anger than anything he heard on talk radio is persuasive on the merits.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s general point that talk radio is playing with fire is a legitimate one. Limbaugh might not even be aware of it, because his tone on his own show is not appreciably more shrill than it has always been (though his continuing attempt to draw parallels between the tactics and policies of the Obama Administration and Hitler’s Nazis may be a new low), but Rush is probably not listening to his competitors and compatriots. Their rhetoric makes the anti-government screeds of 1995 look like sonnets. Anyone who takes Glenn Beck, Jeff Kooner, Michael Savage or Mark Levin seriously, to name just four, would quickly become convinced that we are on the verge of a media-assisted totalitarian takeover. That prospect is sufficient to suggest the necessity of violent resistance even to non-wackos.

The theme is relentless on talk radio: the government wants to facilitate an invasion of illegal aliens, make English-speaking Christians an impotent minority, nationalize industry, shut down opposing voices on television and radio, revert to a nanny state, impoverish us with taxes, direct every aspect of out lives, indoctrinate our children (this discussed over the strains of one of the idiotic “Praise Obama” songs), use global warming as an excuse to transfer our wealth to third-world nations, reject basic American values, and, naturally, take away everyone’s guns so nobody can do anything about it.

If there is a domestic terror attack directed against the government, it can’t be blamed on Waco. Words do matter (though Bill Clinton is an ironic messenger of that truth), and the inflammatory words of conservative talk radio have passed any responsible limits. Rush and his buddies should heed Clinton’s warning, self-serving though t may be.

5 thoughts on “Rush vs. Clinton: Who’s Right?

  1. Talk radio is just a reflection of the mood of a large part of the country. To people on the coasts, it may seem strange that people in ‘flyover country’ (or the part of the country that doesn’t count) have such attitudes, but here, it just makes sense. I only barely know who Glenn Beck is and I have no idea who Jeff Kooner, Michael Savage or Marc Levin are, but I get all those themes you mentioned by watching the mainstream media.

    What we see here from the mainstream media and the coastal ‘elites’ is that anyone who has an opinion right-wing of John Kerry not only is wrong, but is criminal. How often have you seen gun control (as in only the government should have guns) presented as necessary and obvious with the implication that anyone who owns a firearm is some kind of wacko or ignorant hick? How often have you seen any attempt at English only legislation described as racist or anti-immigrant? How are characters with non-liberal attitudes portrayed on TV? How often does the media portray an election as a war in which the Republican candidate cannot be allowed to win?

    When it is demonstrated that the non-liberals have lost and the victorious can do anything they want to them (look at how the health care bill was passed), you are going to hear some vitriol. You will see a resurgence of “Confederate History Month” and such because it is an act of defiance against a government that says “You are not valid and we will not represent you”.

    • All true. Still, you have to tame the tiger if you want to ride it. The anger is legitimate; the complaints are based on fact. But just whipping people into a mindless frenzy is not just unproductive; it’s dangerous. And these guys are doing it to sell books and get ratings.

  2. I’m a person on one of the “coasts” that you mention. I also have friends, family and neighbors who represent far left, left, moderate, right and far right beliefs. Those of us, like myself, not on the “far” side of any argument find much of the media chatter obnoxious, false, antagonistic and dangerous.
    As someone who has lived in Texas, Utah, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York (and has family in Michigan, Kansas and California), I find a majority of the people I associate with value education, hard work, family and treating others as we would like to be treated.
    That said, my wish is that more people would realize that not everyone holds beliefs that are within any party line. Just because I live on the East Coast doesn’t mean I think someone in the middle of the country is a “hick” and it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m a proponent of gun control. I suspect there are many people in “middle” America who have some of the same values as us coastal “elites.”
    Unfortunately, so many of us in America are too busy working and raising our families to attend the latest March on Washington or serve as one of those absurd guest commentators on the ridiculous shows mentioned above.

  3. Jack, I must respectfully disagree with you. On October 15, 1969, Mayor Lindsay stated, “We cannot rest content with the charge from Washington that this peaceful protest is unpatriotic…The fact is that this dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Our Bill of Rights enshrines the right to protest the government. It was enacted to appease a decidedly Anti-Federalist crowd who had only recently overthrown a military empire by physical force.

    While certainly there must be restrictions on speech if that speech directly incites unwarranted violence, shouting “Help, I’m being mugged!” will likely result in a rescuer who would be expected to use force. There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with calling for force, arguendo, else you have just indicted every signer of the Declaration of Independence. It states “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The Revolutionary War was a tax protest that turned violent; most of the King’s alleged infractions turn on Britain’s efforts to collect taxes from a bunch of upstart colonists who did not want to pay them. It was the silencing of protests that ultimately resulted in violence (c.f. the Boston Massacre, where the soldiers acted in self defense). We just had Patriots’ Day, celebrating the Battle of Lexington & Concord–the only reason the British were coming was to round up a colonial arms stockade. Although it is unclear who fired first, the colonists certainly invited violence by maintaining their right to keep and bear arms.

    The only reason you are alarmed by Marc Levin et al. is because you agree that taxation by a government that does not hear your voice was wrong in 1776 and necessitated violent overthrow of that government, but might not be wrong in 2010. It is not an ethical disagreement you have with Mr. Levin, it is a political one.

    • I wouldn’t quite put it that way, Jay. I think crying tyranny can be justified, but crying tyranny when it is something else is irresponsible. Crying tyranny in 1775 was shouting “Fire” when the theater was on fire. Crying tyranny now (as Levin does every night, coincidentally consistent with the theme of his book) is like falsely crying “Fire,” a la Mr. Holmes. If what Levin et al. are saying was even plausibly true, I’d take to the parapets myself—I’m serious. I agree with the principle of overthrowing an oppressive government. When elections are postponed by the Obama administration, the I’ll concede that Levin had a point.

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