Byron York: Flashback ... How Clinton Exploited Oklahoma City for Political Gain





[Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent.]

There are reports Democrats plan an extensive effort to link the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Republicans in general to the shootings in Arizona. The idea is to pin blame on those groups much as Bill Clinton was able to pin blame on Newt Gingrich, Limbaugh, and Republicans in the aftermath of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It's an effort that was previewed last year, on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City attack, when Clinton himself tried out some of the themes we are hearing today in the aftermath of violence in Arizona. Here's what I wrote at the time:

With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing Monday [4/19/10], former President Bill Clinton is playing a starring role in the liberal effort to draw what the New York Times calls "parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today." The short version of the narrative is: Today's Tea Partiers are tomorrow's right-wing bombers.

On Friday, Clinton spoke at a symposium on the bombing organized by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, founded and run by John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who also directed the Obama transition. The theme of Clinton's remarks was that movements like the Tea Party, characterized by extreme right-wing rhetoric, could lead to political violence. In the last few days, news accounts in the Times ("Recalling '95 Bombing, Clinton Sees Parallels"), Newsweek ("Hate: Antigovernment extremists are on the rise -- and on the march"), and ABC News ("Watch your words") drove home Clinton's point. "This is a legitimate thing to do," the former president said, "drawing parallels to the time running up to Oklahoma City and a lot of the political discord that exists in our country today."

What Clinton and his supporters do not talk about is the way in which 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. (The Lewinsky scandal was still three years in the future.) In the days after Oklahoma City, Clinton and Morris devised a plan to use the bombing to discredit and outmaneuver the new Republican majority in Congress.


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