In today’s New York Times, Bill Clinton once again tries to tie the Oklahoma City bombing to those of us who hold “the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.”
Of course he sort of proves those of us who do believe such things right by continually using April 19 to tie us to a deranged murderer instead of acknowledging, taking some responsibility for, or expressing any remorse whatsoever for another anniversary we observe today: the Clinton administration’s slaughter of 76 people, including 20 children, at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. Waco gets all of a sentence in Clinton’s op-ed.
Clinton twice invokes America’s founders in the piece: He refers to George Washington’s suppression of the whiskey rebellion, and he explains that the founders “constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear.” I was born on April 19, so I know a bit about today’s history. It’s not just the anniversary of Waco and Oklahoma City, it’s also the anniversary of the battles of Concord and Lexington—the first shots of the American Revolution. That would of course be an occasion of citizens rising up to violently overthrow the government that most Americans—including Clinton—tend to celebrate. And it’s probably worth noting that we threw off the yoke of the crown for violations of human freedom and dignity that were a hell of a lot less severe than what we put up with today. (Today is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—a reminder sometimes violence against those who have deemed themselves in charge is unequivocally justified.)
I don’t think Clinton is calling for censorship of people who, as he puts it, “demoniz[e] the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.” But I do think he’s trying to marginalize those of us who criticize the government—to shunt us to the fringe. And he’s laying groundwork so that the next time some idiot flies a plane into an IRS building, or some madman opens fire on a couple of cops, he can move the ball a bit more toward pinning the bodies on those of us who dare to criticize the now insurmountable federal deficit, the mass looting of the taxpayers that is the public pension system, or the panoply of drug war, criminal justice, and police militarization abuses you read about on this site—to rattle off just a few examples.
I’ve never really felt the need to distance myself from people like Tim McVeigh or Joseph Stack because I’ve never felt any affinity or kinship with them. But just for the record, let me say that taking up arms against the government is moronic and reprehensible for a host of reasons, not least of which is that there isn’t a chance in hell you’re going to win. Beyond that, atrocious as Waco was, murdering a bunch of federal workers, their children, and bystanders, none of whom had anything whatsoever to do with Waco, wasn’t just morally repugnant, it was an act of insanity and delusion (McVeigh actually thought the bombing could have sparked a revolution). And even if one were depraved enough to find some moral justification in Oklahoma City, think of what it did for McVeigh’s cause: Instead of April 19 being the day we remember and lament the Clinton’s administration’s monumental fuck-up, and possibly reflect on massive power of government to simply eliminate people it deems weird or fringe or threatening, Clinton, armed with moral rectitude provided by McVeigh, now gets to take to the pages of the New York Times to celebrate government, and to denounce and marginalize the people who dare to criticize it.
The really mendacious thing about the crap Clinton spews at about this time every year is that unlike the tortured nexus he tries to build between government critics and Timothy McVeigh, his responsibility for the charred bodies at Waco is pretty damned easy to chart. He gets to gloss over all of that now.
The thing is, Mr. Former President, if I may address you directly, is there are far too may public servants who, as you put it, “do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.” I document them every day on this site. And so despite your admonition, I will continue to criticize them for it. And when, for example, they out and out murder innocent people in the name of a senseless, wasteful, and fundamentally illiberal policy (a policy, incidentally, that you enthusiastically support, despite your admission that you yourself have broken the country’s drug laws), I’ll go ahead and, to borrow your word, demonize them for it.
And you know what? I won’t feel the slightest tinge of guilt about doing so. Nor will I feel the least bit of responsibility for acts of anti-government violence, past or future, even when they’re committed in the name of one or more ideas I might otherwise endorse.
Because fundamentally and categorically, I repudiate the use of force and violence to impose my beliefs, political philosophy, or policy preferences on other people. Until you can say the same thing, Mr. Former President (and we both know you can’t), you can spare me your goddamned lecture.