Do right-wingers fuel domestic terror? Or is conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh right -- that former President Clinton and President Obama soon could have blood on their hands?
Saying "right-wing, radio talk-show hosts" kept people in "white heat" nearly 15 years ago before the deadly Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton today warned against similar anger in the age of Obama.
But Limbaugh said Clinton and the Obama "regime" are the ones that have "set the stage for violence."
"Bill Clinton ... just gave the kooks out there an excuse to be violent," Limbaugh told radio listeners today. "He just offered them an opportunity to be violent."
Clinton has drawn parallels between the anti-government tone that preceded Tim McVeigh's bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people, and the political rancor that greeted President Obama's administration.
Speaking to the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., today, Clinton urged political and media leaders to remember that "words matter" and that they fall on the "serious and the delirious and the connected and the unhinged alike."
"We can't let the debate veer so far into hatred that we lose sight of our humanity," Clinton said.
But playing three extended sound bites from Clinton's speech, Limbaugh flipped the script, saying any domestic terror violence this time would be "squarely on the shoulders of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama."
In one of Limbaugh's sound bites, Clinton said, "We didn't have blog sites back then so the instrument of carrying this forward were basically the right-wing, radio talk-show hosts, and they understood clearly that emotion was more powerful than reason most of the time, and it happened that they got much bigger listenership and more advertisers and more commercial success if they kept people in the white heat.
"For 99 percent of them, it was just that, turn on the radio, listen to them say something you agree with, vent your anger, go on with your life and make the best of it. But it shaped the environment in which we were in."
At another point in his speech, Clinton said: "By the '80s, we began to have the rise of violence from the fringe I suppose you could call right-wing, but it was basically uncritical hatred of the government and belief that all taxes were illegitimate."
Limbaugh Calls Out 'the Regime'
Limbaugh, referring to Bush-era national security leaks to reporters, accused liberals, whom he is now calling "the regime," of "setting the stage" for violence.
"They have given up our military secrets in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet they sit here, Clinton and Obama, and try to blame me and us on the radio for something that has not happened, while setting the stage for it to happen," Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh was incredulous that anyone would associate the Tea Party movement, "genuine, peace-loving, middle-American citizens of this country," with future acts of terrorism.
"What have I missed here?" Limbaugh asked. "What Tea Party has engaged in acts of violence?"
Playing a much-publicized 2003 soundbite of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton rather loudly saying at a Democratic party fundraiser that she is "sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and disagree with this administration, than you are not patriotic."
Limbaugh said, "She sounds angrier than any Tea Party person I have ever heard."
Turning again to her husband, Limbaugh said: "With this comment, you have just set the stage for violence in this country. Any future acts of violence are on your shoulders, Mr. Clinton. You just gave the kooks in this country an excuse to go be violent. Nobody on the right's doing this. Nobody on talk radio is advocating anything of the sort of that you are predicting. You, sir, are predicting it.
"Maybe 'the regime' wants something like that to happen?" Limbaugh said, as he segued to a commercial break.
Recalling '95 Bombing, Clinton Says Don't Let Debate Veer into Hatred
Clinton's Friday speech, which was co-sponsored by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, came shortly before the former president was scheduled to travel to Oklahoma City to participate in a remembrance of the attack, which claimed the lives of 19 children under age 6.
The attack was carried out by McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran turned extremist who was later convicted of planning and implementing the attack. He was sentenced to death and was executed at a federal prison in Indiana in June 2001. McVeigh timed his attack to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the federal government's siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, April 19, 1993. Seventy-six people died in the resulting fire that destroyed the compound.
Addressing the anti-tax and anti-spending Tea Party movement that has developed since President Obama took office, Clinton said in his Friday speech that it could be a "healthy thing," but only if its leaders do not demonize their political opponents.
Clinton 'Not Trying to Muzzle Anybody'
"This Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they're making us justify every penny of taxes we've raised and every dollar of public money we spend," Clinton said.
At the same time, Clinton suggested that some of the Republicans that Tea Party activists want to vote into office played a role in converting the budget surpluses of his administration into deficits during the Bush years.
"They say they're for limited government and a balanced budget," Clinton said. "When I left office, we had the smallest workforce since Eisenhower and we had four surpluses for the first time in 70 years and if the people they say should be elected had not gotten elected, we would be out of debt in just a couple years for the first time since the 1830s.
"But when you get mad," Clinton said, "sometimes you wind up producing exactly the reverse result of what you say you are for."
Going beyond the Tea Party movement, Clinton highlighted an anti-immigration law in Arizona, the return of Confederate History month in Virginia and the rise of the "cowboy latte" at Starbucks as evidence that people are looking for overly simplistic answers.
"People are looking for answers to make life simple, and understandable and digestible again, and sometimes with the idea that they need to go back to an idyllic time that never existed," Clinton said. "That's a big part of the explanation for this anti-immigration law in Arizona that just passed or the idea that we ought to bring back the Confederate month in Virginia without saying anything about slavery or the idea that you ought to be able to pack a loaded six-gun into a Starbucks and order a cowboy latte."
Clinton said his intent was not to stifle critics of government but to encourage them to consider the potential fallout from their words.
"I am not trying to muzzle anybody," Clinton said. "But one of the things conservatives have always brought to the table in America is the reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility and the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.
"Look," he continued, "I'm glad they're fighting over health care and everything else. Let them have at it. But I think that that all you have to do is read the paper everyday to see how many people there are that are deeply troubled."
Clinton said that there were three big lessons from the Oklahoma City bombing: living in a time of change and adversity is difficult, so be sensitive; people can't let the debate veer so far into hatred that they lose their humanity; and it's always a mistake to bet against America.