FIFTEEN years ago today, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City claimed the lives of 168 men, women and children. It was, until 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in United States history. But what emerged in its aftermath — the compassion, caring and love that countless Americans from all walks of life extended to the victims and their families — was a powerful testament to the best of America. And its lessons are as important now as they were then.
Most of the people killed that day were employees of the federal government. They were men and women who had devoted their careers to helping the elderly and disabled, supporting our veterans and enforcing our laws. They were good neighbors and good friends. One of them, a Secret Service agent named Al Whicher, a husband and father of three, had been on my presidential security detail. Nineteen children also lost their lives.
In the wake of the bombing, Oklahoma City prompted Congress to approve most of the proposals I submitted to develop a stronger and more systematic approach to defending our nation and its citizens against terrorism, an effort that continues today, as we saw with President Obama’s impressive international summit meeting last week to secure all sources of nuclear material that can be made into bombs.
Finally, 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.
Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws. We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.
Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy. That is the bright line that protects our freedom. It has held for a long time, since President George Washington called out 13,000 troops in response to the Whiskey Rebellion. Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.
Clinton's article for me prompts the question, who is worse ? The left or the right. George Bush was detested by the left from day one. They never gave him a chance. So frankly the left can't complain too much when a trashy element associated with the right wing in US politics gets a bit out of hand. And in truth, the left's biggest problem with Bush was his image not his policies. George Bush is a white republican from Texas. Throw in the fact that he was originally an oil man and you have all the ingredients required for a left wing hate figure.
Obama on the other hand is a black liberal from Chicago. Enough said, he is already going to be hated by a third of the country for this fact alone. I find all this "big government" thing to be utter nonsense unless of course you are simply a fiscal conservative worried about government debt or are of the legitimate belief that government run institutions breed inefficiency. But the "government is taking over our lives" dogma is no more valid than the "Bush wants to wire tap us all" mantra.
Personally I have never felt that either Bush or Obama are particularly hateful figures. Although I was against the Iraq war and several other policies Bush always struck me as a compassionate man. He was firm with the pharmaceutical companies when he confronted the issue of expense and HIV treatment. The result has and will save millions of African lives (I can't help ask what has any left wing Bush hating political figure ever really done to alleviate poverty and suffering in Africa ?) Likewise the Obama hating element of the right wing Tea Party movement continually portray Obama as a type of Marxist despot. It is utter fantasy which I am beginning to find boring.