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Bill Clinton: ‘The words we use really do matter’

billclinton20091110 Bill Clinton: The words we use really do matter

In remarks made just three days prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, former President Bill Clinton warned at a symposium sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund that today’s anti-government rhetoric could lead to the same kind of violent outcome.

“Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America,” Clinton recalled. “The fabric of American life had been unraveling, ore and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in. … It is true that we see some of that today.”

“What we learned from Oklahoma City,” he went on, “is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter. … They fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. … And what we advocate, commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City.”

Although Clinton praised conservatives for their consistent reminder “that no law can replace personal responsibility,” he was clearly troubled by the threats of violence which followed the passage of health care reform. “Let them have at it,” he said of the arguments over health care, “but I think that all you have to do is read the paper every day to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled.”

Clinton’s insistance that “words really do matter” may not be surprising, coming from the man who once quibbled over “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” The most interesting aspect of his remarks, however, may be the extent to which they served as a kind of Rorschach test for the news outlets covering them.

Fox News, for example, chose to headline their story, “Bill Clinton Warns Tea Party Anger Could Incite Right-Wing Extremism” and went so far as to claim that “Clinton appeared to draw implicit parallels between Tea Partiers .. and the far-right militia veterans that carried out the 1995 attack.”

The New York Daily News, in contrast, ran with “Former President Clinton: Tea Party OK, but anti-Obama rage may inspire another Oklahoma bombing.” The paper’s writeup emphasized Clinton’s statement that “this Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise and every dollar of money we’ve spent,”

But the greatest level of outrage was expressed in a blog entry at the highly conservative American Spectator, which seized on comments Clinton had made prior to the symposium, in an interview with the New York Times, to proclaim, “Clinton Uses Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing to Attack Michelle Bachmann.”

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