“Pin this on the Tea Partiers”

Clinton was in deep political trouble in April 1995. Six months earlier, voters had resoundingly rejected Democrats in the 1994 mid-term elections, giving the GOP control of both House and Senate. Polls showed the public viewed Clinton as weak, incompetent and ineffective. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his GOP forces seized the initiative on virtually every significant issue, while Clinton appeared to be politically dead. The worst moment may have come on April 18, the day before the bombing, when Clinton plaintively told reporters, “The president is still relevant here.” A first step was to tie the bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, to the burgeoning militia and patriot movements, something that with the media’s attention succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Even today “anything related to the militia movement will inevitably be linked to Oklahoma and McVeigh” (2) even though “after more than three years of intensive investigation neither the FBI nor any other law enforcement agency produced evidence that the perpetrators were members of or in any substantial way connected with any militia, anywhere, anytime. A county grand jury arrived at the same conclusions. No militias were implicated by government prosecutors at Timothy McVeigh’s or Terry Nichols’ trials. Militias had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bombing.” (3) Morris recommended what he called the “ricochet theory.” Clinton would “stimulate national concern over extremism and terror,” and then, “when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans.” As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose “intrusive” measures against so-called extremist groups. Then, if members of Congress complained, that would “link right-wing of the party to extremist groups.” The net effect, Morris concluded, would be “self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists.” (1) Last November, after Democratic President Barack Obama’s own humiliation in midterm elections, Democratic pollster Mark Penn began speculating that President Obama needed his own Oklahoma moment’: So it was no surprise that when Congressman Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ) and 19 others were shot by a lone gunman in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, some Democrats and their supporters seized on the assassination attempt as Obama’s own Oklahoma moment.’ (Moulitsas made no tweet mentioning that his blog had prepared its own target list’ of Congressmen for the 2010 election, and that Rep. Giffords’s name had appeared on it as well.) (6) Krugman joined the fray hours later. Though admitting that “We don’t have proof yet that this was political,” he lost no time in marshalling his evidence: Rep. Giffords was opposed in 2010 by “a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that “the whole Tea Party” was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” list.” Krugman even criticized Palin’s description of the shooting as tragic’: “right-wingers went wild over anyone who called 9/11 a tragedy, insisting that it wasn’t a tragedy, it was an atrocity.” By that evening’s news, Keith Olbermann of NBC was declaring about the Palin map: (Actually, as noted, Olbermann got it wrong: “the bulls eye targets” were on the Democratic ad targetting Republican Congressmen. In fairness, though, he did ask “those of us considered on the left’” to “eliminate all our own suggestion of violence, however inadvertent they might have been”, which may cover the bullseye map..) Also that day, buried in a long article on the shooting, Politico online magazine quoted an unnamed “veteran Democratic operative” advising the administration to “pin” the shooting on the Tea Party movement. “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.” (11) A second unnamed “Democratic strategist” also compared the Tucson shooting and the Oklahoma bombing, saying that both “take place in a climate of bitter and virulent rhetoric against the government and Democrats.” (11) you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten themyou make us expendable you make us part of the cannon fodder. For a while, you’ve been feeding this hatred, this divisionyou feed it, you encourage it.Something’s going to happen. People are feeding this monster. (12) I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This [is] not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems. (13) On Monday, Clyburn again claimed a connection between Angle’s statement and Loughner’s act. “He saw a Second Amendment remedy and that’s what occurred here and there is no way not to make that connection,” he told The Charleston Post & Courier. “The shooting is cause for the country to rethink parameters on free speech, Clyburn said.” (15) * Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) “plans to introduce legislation in the coming days that would limit access to the type of weaponry used to gun down Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and 19 other people.” * “Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) reportedly plans to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a federal official or member of Congress.” (Stress added) (16) However, it is too early to tell. Clinton’s strategy push, as we saw, was not fully formed until more than a week after the Oklahoma bombing; Obama will need a similar amount of time before deciding whether to make this his own Oklahoma moment.’ If he does, he could be pleasantly surprised to find so much of the groundwork already prepared for him. (2) Mark Shaffer, “McVeigh factor destroys militias”, Arizona Republic, May 6, 2001. http://www.rickross.com/reference/militia/militia42.html (4) Ed Morissey, “Dem pollster: What Obama really needs is an Oklahoma City moment”, Hot Air, Nov. 5, 2010. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://hotair.com/archives/2010/11/05/dem-pollster-what-obama-really-needs-is-an-oklahoma-city-moment/ (6) Kos, “2010 will be primary season”, Daily Kos, Jun. 25, 2008. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. (7) John, “Memo to Paul Krugman and Rep. Van Hollen: My Search Was Not in Vain (Updated)”, (8) Paul Krugman, “Assassination Attempt In Arizona,” New York Times, Jan. 8, 2011. Web, Jan. 10, 2011. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/assassination-attempt-in-arizona/ (10) Stephanie Condon, “Palin Staffer: Giffords Attack Nothing to Do With Ex-Gov,” Political Hotsheet, CBSNews.com, Jan. 9, 2011. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. “http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20027939-503544.html (12) Suzy Khimm, “After Giffords Shooting, Rep. Grijalva Blames Rage-Fueled Political Climate”, Mother Jones, http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/grijalva-giffords-shooting-tea-party-palin (14) James Rosen, “Clyburn: Incendiary political talk has come home to roost,” Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2011. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/09/2008158/clyburn-incendiary-political-talk.html (16) Joe Wolverton II, “The Shameful Manipulation of Murder: Gun Control and Tyranny”, New American, Jan. 10, 2011. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/politics/5828-the-shameful-manipulation-of-murder-gun-control-and-tyranny Last April 19, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York retold the story of how Democratic President Bill Clinton, “aided by pollster/adviser Dick Morris, exploited the bombing to make a political comeback from what was the lowest point in Clinton’s presidency to that time”: And then came the explosion at the Murrah Federal Building. In addition to seeing a criminal act and human loss, Clinton and Morris saw opportunity. If the White House could tie Gingrich, congressional Republicans and conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh to the attack, then Clinton might gain the edge in the fight against the GOP.” (1) A first step was to tie the bombers, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, to the burgeoning militia and patriot movements, which with the media’s co-operation happened almost automatically (so much so that York does not even mention it in passing.) Even today “anything related to the militia movement will inevitably be linked to Oklahoma and McVeigh” (2), even though “after more than three years of intensive investigation neither the FBI nor any other law enforcement agency produced evidence that the perpetrators were members of or in any substantial way connected with any militia, anywhere, anytime. A county grand jury arrived at the same conclusions. No militias were implicated by government prosecutors at Timothy McVeigh’s or Terry Nichols’ trials. Militias had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bombing.” (3) The next, trickier, step was to tie those allegedly extremist militia and patriot groups to the Republican Party. The President needs to connect with the American people. Remember, President Clinton reconnected with Oklahoma. And the President right now he seems removed. And it wasn’t until that speech that he really clicked with the American people. Obama needs a similar, a similar kind — Words will work, I think, if he finds that right moment.” (4) So it was no surprise that when Congressman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 others were shot by a lone gunman in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, some Democrats and their supporters would seize on the assassination attempt as Obama’s ‘Oklahoma City moment.’ One of the first off the mark was Markos Moulitsas, owner of the Daily Kos blog, who within minutes of the initial report on the shooting had linked to a March 2010 map originally from Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, which ‘targeted’ 20 Democrats in vulnerable districts, including Rep. Giffords, who had voted for health care reform (with crosshairs marking their districts). Tweeted Moulitsas: “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin,”. (5) (Moulitsas made no tweets mentioning that his blog had prepared its own ‘target list’ of Congressmen for the 2010 election, and that Rep. Giffords’s name had been placed on it as well.) (6) The Palin map had first been revealed in March 2010, and widely condemned — by, for example, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who wrote: “you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from [Democratic] members of Congress, let alone senior party officials” — and by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-MD), who told MSNBC: “In this particular environment I think it’s really dangerous to try and make your point in that particular way because there are people who are taking that kind of thing seriously.” This despite the fact that the DCCC was displaying, and had been displaying for more than a year, its own map of 11 “targeted Republicans” (with bull’s eyes rather than crosshairs marking their districts). (7) Krugman joined the fray just hours later. Though admitting that “We don’t have proof yet that this was political,” he lost no time in marshalling his evidence: “she’s a Democrat”; her 2010 opponent was “a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that ‘the whole Tea Party’ was her enemy.)”; and, most damning, “yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous ‘crosshairs’ list.” He ended by criticizing Palin’s description of the shooting as ‘tragic’: “right-wingers went wild over anyone who called 9/11 a tragedy, insisting that it wasn’t a tragedy, it was an atrocity.” In between, Krugman managed to make the Oklahoma City connection explicit: “Just yesterday, Ezra Klein remarked that opposition to health reform was getting scary. Actually, it’s been scary for quite a while, in a way that already reminded many of us of the climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing.” (8) By that evening’s news, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC was declaiming about the Palin map: If Sarah Palin, whose website, put and today scrubbed, bulls eye targets on twenty representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate today her own part, however tangential, in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics she must [be] dismissed from politics. She must be repudiated by the members of her own party, and if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling. (9) (Actually, as noted, Olbermann got a detail wrong: The “bulls eye targets” were on the Democratic map that targeted Republican Congressmen; the Republican map targeting Democratic Congressmen used crosshairs. In fairness, though, he did ask “those of us considered ‘on the left’” to “eliminate all our own suggestions of violence, however inadvertent they might have been”, which may cover the Democratic map as well.) By Sunday, CBS News was leading off its coverage of the story with: “A staffer for Sarah Palin is defending the conservative politician against attacks blaming Palin and the Tea Party movement for the horrifying Arizona shooting yesterday that left six people dead and Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition.” (10) Also that day, buried in a long article on the shooting, online magazine Politico quoted an unnamed “veteran Democratic operative” advising the administration to “pin” the shooting on the Tea Party movement. “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” stated the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.” Politico noted in passing that “That horror, which killed 168 people including many children, helped then-President Bill Clinton stigmatize extreme anti-government rhetoric and re-energize his presidency at a time when Newt Gingrich and conservative Republicans were riding high in Congress.” (11) A second unnamed “Democratic strategist” also compared the Tucson shooting and the Oklahoma City bombing, saying that both “take place in a climate of bitter and virulent rhetoric against the government and Democrats.” (11) The same day, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) (whose district adjoins Giffords’s, and who like her was on Palin’s crosshairs map), deplored the rhetoric of “anger, hatred, and division” in an interview with Mother Jones magazine. Grijalva initially took a conciliatory, bipartisan tone — “I hope people stop and think that we can be opponents, but we don’t have to be deadly enemies” — but quickly dropped that when the interviewer suggested ‘that the tea party right deserved to be singled out for particular blame’; he concurred, saying: you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them — you make us expendable — you make us part of the cannon fodder. For a while, you’ve been feeding this hatred, this division — you feed it, you encourage it. Something’s going to happen. People are feeding this monster. (12) Also on Sunday, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) expanded the list of the culpable to include Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who had told a conservative talk show radio host during her campaign: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This [is] not for someone who’s in the military. This [is] not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems. (13) Reported Associated Press: “Clyburn, the House assistant Democratic leader, said of Giffords’s alleged assailant, Jared Lee Loughner: ‘It seems like this gentleman was not satisfied with the way the election came out. There’s no way you cannot make that connection (with Angle’s rhetoric) unless you want to be stupid.’” (14) On Monday, Clyburn again claimed a connection between Angle’s statement and Loughner’s act. “He saw a Second Amendment remedy and that’s what occurred here and there is no way not to make that connection,” he told the Charleston Post & Courier. “The shooting is cause for the country to rethink parameters on free speech, Clyburn said.” (15) Indeed, it looks as though the First and Second Amendments could both end up as further casualties of this madness. By January 10, New American magazine was already reporting on new Democratic initiatives that appear to violate both amendments:

  • Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) “plans to introduce legislation in the coming days that would limit access to the type of weaponry used to gun down Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and 19 other people.”
  • Long time gun-banner Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) (see my 2008 article, “Bob Barr and the Gun Ban” (16)) “will propose a bill to limit the availability of the type of ammunition holder that was used by the Tucson shooter.The New Jersey Democrat plans to alter or augment the McCarthy measure.”
  • “Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) reportedly plans to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a federal official or member of Congress.” [stress added] (17)

Looking at these bills (and pondering those sure to follow), one cannot help but remember Dick Morris’s ‘ricochet theory’: “impose ‘intrusive’ measures against so-called extremist groups. Then, if members of Congress complained, that would ‘link right-wing of the party to extremist groups.’” There has been no indication yet that Obama and his administration will be following this strategy. Indeed, for now, the President and his administration have been commendably holding themselves aloof from the blame game. However, it is far too early to predict. Clinton’s strategy push, as we saw, was not fully formed until more than a week after the Oklahoma bombing; Obama will need a similar amount of time before deciding whether to make this his own ‘Oklahoma City moment.’ If he does, he could be pleasantly surprised to find so much of the groundwork already prepared for him. – Sources: Photo: United States Congress, Official portrait of United States Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Mar. 24, 2010. Photo is in the public domain. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gabrielle_Giffords_official_portrait.jpg (1) Byron York, “Flashback: How Clinton exploited Oklahoma City for political gain”, Beltway Confidential, Washington Examiner, Jan. 10, 2011. Web, Jan. 10, 2011. http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/2011/01/flashback-how-clinton-exploited-oklahoma-city-political-gain (2) Mark Shaffer, “McVeigh factor destroys militias“, Arizona Republic, May 6, 2001. http://www.rickross.com/reference/militia/militia42.html (3)Oklahoma City Bombing,” Conservapedia. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.conservapedia.com/Oklahoma_City_Bombing (4) Ed Morissey, “Dem pollster: What Obama really needs is an Oklahoma City moment“, Hot Air, Nov. 5, 2010. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://hotair.com/archives/2010/11/05/dem-pollster-what-obama-really-needs-is-an-oklahoma-city-moment/ (5) markos, twitter, Jan. 8, 2011. Web, Jan. 10, 2011. http://twitter.com/markos/status/23821038362034176# (6) Kos, “2010 will be primary season“, Daily Kos, Jun. 25, 2008. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/6/25/1204/74882/511/541568 (7) John Sexton, “Memo to Paul Krugman and Rep. Van Hollen: My Search Was Not in Vain (Updated)”, Mar. 31, 2010. Web, Jan. 11, 2010. http://www.verumserum.com/?p=13647 (8) Paul Krugman, “Assassination Attempt In Arizona,” New York Times, Jan. 8, 2011. Web, Jan. 10, 2011. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/assassination-attempt-in-arizona/ (9)Olbermann criticizes Palin, Beck, and himself in Giffords ‘Special Comment‘”, National Political Buzz, Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-national/olbermann-criticizes-beck-o-reilly-and-himself-giffords-special-comment (10) Stephanie Condon, “Palin Staffer: Giffords Attack Nothing to Do With Ex-Gov,” Political Hotsheet, CBSNews.com, Jan. 9, 2011. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20027939-503544.html (11) Jonathan Martin et al, “Violence and politics merge“, Politico, Jan. 9, 2011. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47294.html (12) Suzy Khimm, “After Giffords Shooting, Rep. Grijalva Blames Rage-Fueled Political Climate“, Mother Jones, http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/grijalva-giffords-shooting-tea-party-palin (13) Sam Stein, “Sharron Angle Floated ’2nd Amendment Remedies’ As ‘Cure’ For ‘The Harry Reid Problems’“, Hufington Post, Jun. 16, 2010. Web, Jan. 11, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/16/sharron-angle-floated-2nd_n_614003.html (14) James Rosen, “Clyburn: Incendiary political talk has come home to roost,” Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2011. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/09/2008158/clyburn-incendiary-political-talk.html (15) Yvonne Wenger, “Clyburn: Words can be danger”, Charleston Post & Courier, Jan. 10, 2011. Web, Jan. 10, 2011. http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/jan/10/clyburn-words-can-be-danger/ (16) Joe Wolverton II, “The Shameful Manipulation of Murder: Gun Control and Tyranny”, New American, Jan. 10, 2011. Web, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/politics/5828-the-shameful-manipulation-of-murder-gun-control-and-tyranny


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