Nation/World

Clinton Assails ‘Angry Voices’ Spreading Hate Rush Limbaugh Assumes He Was The Target And Takes Exception

President Clinton Monday denounced the “loud and angry voices” that inflame the public debate and called on the American people to speak out against “the purveyors of hatred and division.”

Addressing last week’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Clinton said the nation’s airwaves are too often used “to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate, they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. … It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior,” he said in Minneapolis.

In angry tones, the president said: “When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it.”

Clinton’s remarks were part of a growing and intense debate after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. Even before all the victims have been removed from the rubble in Oklahoma City, the fingerpointing has begun in earnest.

Some conservatives reacted furiously to suggestions that there is a link between the Oklahoma bombing and harsh public attacks on government. Rush Limbaugh accused liberals on Monday of trying to foment a “national hysteria” against the conservative movement.

“Make no mistake about it: Liberals intend to use this tragedy for their own political gain,” said Limbaugh, whose radio show is carried on 660 stations. He blamed “many in the mainstream media” for “irresponsible attempts to categorize and demonize those who had nothing to do with this. … There is absolutely no connection between these nuts and mainstream conservatism in America today.”

But some liberal commentators insisted there is a connection. Columnist Carl Rowan, who attributed the bombing to the “angriest of the angry white men” on the television show “Inside Washington,” broadened his indictment Monday to include House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and opponents of affirmative action.

“Unless Gingrich and Dole and the Republicans say ‘am I inflaming a bunch of nuts?’ you know we’re going to have some more events,” Rowan said. “I am absolutely certain the harsher rhetoric of the Gingriches and the Doles … creates a climate of violence in America.”

Many elected officials continued to tread lightly on the question of assessing blame, lest they be seen as trying to profit politically. Republican presidential candidates have echoed Clinton in calling for the most severe penalties possible for those responsible.

At the same time, several Republicans dismissed efforts to draw any connection between the party’s antigovernment ideology and Timothy James McVeigh, the principal suspect in last week’s bombing, who has ties to a far-right paramilitary group.

“This is absurd, that somehow the bombing is related to the Contract (with America),” said Fred Steeper, a Republican pollster. “This is leftwing paranoia. It looks like it’s Democrats, at least the left wing, trying to gain political advantage, and the media playing along.”

But Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said conservatives could be hurt by the actions of extremists, just as public perceptions of the left were colored by violent anti-war radicals in the 1960s.

“At least for appearances, the antigovernment conservatives are going to have to edit themselves for fear of hearing too many echoes of their own language in the rhetoric of the kooks,” added Geoff Garin, a Democratic strategist.

Clinton, who has assailed Limbaugh and talk radio in the past, did not mention individual broadcasters or programs in his speech to community college educators in Minneapolis. Senior administration aides labored to emphasize that, despite what seemed like an obvious inference, the president was not referring specifically to conservative talk radio shows. “He’s talking in a broader sense about the tenor of public discourse,” said Mark Gearan, White House communications director.

Referring to those he said are dividing the country, the president added: “The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable; so exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake. I never want to look into the faces of another set of family members like I saw yesterday. And you can help to stop it.”

Lamar Alexander, a GOP presidential candidate, agreed with Clinton to a point. “It’s very important to remember there are as many shrill voices from the left as there are from the right, as many shrill attacks on Newt Gingrich as there are on Bill Clinton,” he said.

The Oklahoma bombing has begun to affect the congressional debate over crime and assault weapons. The National Rifle Association, which strongly supported GOP candidates in 1994, has among other things assailed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for “stormtrooper tactics.”

The ATF, which had offices in the Oklahoma federal building, carried out the raid against cult members in Waco, Texas, two years ago that appears to have angered McVeigh. NRA officials, who earlier condemned the bombing, did not respond to inquiries Monday.

G. Gordon Liddy, the former Watergate burglar turned radio talk show host, has also been an outspoken critic of the tactics of ATF agents. Liddy has repeatedly advised “shooting them in the head,” but only, he adds, in self-defense.

On his show Monday, one caller accused Liddy of “inflammatory” rhetoric, while another said that “you and your other right-wing fanatics have contributed” to the Oklahoma tragedy.

“You are not in any way justified in shooting a BATF agent unless and until that BATF agent is attempting to kill you,” Liddy said. He added that “if they come at you with lethal force, shooting, as in Waco … what are you going to do, let them kill you?”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Tough talk “We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate; they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.” - President Clinton

“Talk is not a crime. And talk is not the culprit here. Talk didn’t buy fertilizer and fuel oil. Talk didn’t drive the van. Talk didn’t rent the van. A person did. A lunatic did.” - Rush Limbaugh

This sidebar appeared with the story: Tough talk “We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate; they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.” - President Clinton

“Talk is not a crime. And talk is not the culprit here. Talk didn’t buy fertilizer and fuel oil. Talk didn’t drive the van. Talk didn’t rent the van. A person did. A lunatic did.” - Rush Limbaugh



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