By: David Mark
Former President Bill Clinton’s comments surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing commemoration are “unconscionable” and an “over-the-top” effort to silence critics, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday.
Clinton has drawn fire for reprising criticism he made of conservative talk radio 15 years in the wake of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that took 168 lives and injured more than 500 others.
“I could not believe it when I first saw the Clinton remarks that he had come out again, 15 years later, and talked about this being precipitated by right wing talk radio,” Inhofe said in an interview for POLITICO’s Arena forum. “This is an over-the-top effort to try to stop a movement of people who aren’t amenable to supporting Obama programs, like cap and trade, government-run health care and closing Gitmo.”
Clinton’s remarks have fostered a spirited back and forth about the role of increasingly heated political rhetoric by tea party protesters and others.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), for instance, warned the former president not to “cheapen” the memory of the Oklahoma City bombing by comparing the anti-government sentiment that fueled it to the anti-Washington anger that drives the tea party movement. But former Rep. Mickey Edwards, an Oklahoma Republican who represented the Oklahoma City area from 1977-1993, said in Arena that Clinton’s remarks were taken out of context and were actually more nuanced.
Inhofe saw the issue in starker terms.
“People in Oklahoma are much more offended by his remarks than those in Washington. For those of us in Oklahoma, it is a huge deal. We think of it in terms of personal losses,” Inhofe said. “For him to exploit our personal losses for personal and political gain is unconscionable.”
The senator said there was no linkage between tea party activists and those who perpetrate violence. Rather, he said, they are opposed to: “1, the unsustainable spending by Barack Obama; 2, government-run health care; 3, trying to do something to pass cap and trade; 4, closing Gitmo.”
“If you remember the last August recess, those are the four issues that bubbled up,” Inhofe went on. “Obviously, those are issues that are very partisan. This didn’t go unnoticed by Bill Clinton. I think what he was responding to is this and figured it might be a good time to get his shots in.”
Inhofe said Clinton tried to use the Oklahoma City tragedy 15 years ago to discredit conservative critics.
“At that time, he was so outraged at talk radio. That was when they first started talking about toying with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] to silence critics. He was trying to think of some reason to justify his reasons for his hatred of conservative talk radio. He said that very likely had something to do with [Timothy] McVeigh’s actions,” Inhofe said.
“Now, we know that even McVeigh himself said upon his execution that it was Waco that motivated him. There’s no evidence he even listened to conservative radio.”
Others see at least a casual link between tea party protesters and a potential for violent action.
“Of course, it’s not a majority of tea party members who engage in this kind of violence-tinged rhetoric and action, but it only takes one or two on the margins of a movement to unleash violence,” Sherrilyn Ifill, a law professor at the University of Maryland, wrote in Arena. “Republicans should be reaching out to address the legitimate concerns of tea party advocates and publicly denouncing the incendiary language and demonstrations that may contribute to a climate that encourages one person on the fringe to commit an unspeakable act.”