I recall a time when President Clinton was really quite unpopular, or so it appeared from where I was sat, then as now, in London. It was during his first term. In particular, I recall a libertarian friend who had recently been in America (although he may not himself have been American – not sure about that), sitting on my sofa in my living room, at one of my last Friday of the month libertarian talk evenings, telling me that President Clinton was absolutely not going to be re-elected. Too many people just did not like him. I pressed for details. Are you sure it’s not just that you don’t want Clinton to be re-elected? No, he isn’t going to be re-elected. And the point is, my libertarian friend was sort of right. Clinton wasn’t going to be re-elected. At the very least he didn’t then look like being re-elected. But then, Timothy McVeigh blew up that big office block in Oklahoma and from then on, Clinton never looked back.
Politics is all about story telling. It is about, as we like to say here, the meta-context. And what this explosion accomplished for Clinton was that it completely changed the story being told at that time about what the state was and is. It turned the state from an economic and regulatory threat to the people, into the leading protector of the people. And it turned right wing grumblers about all those damned taxes and regulations into enemies of the state, and hence enemies of the people. Clinton no longer had to struggle to tell the story that he had been trying all along to tell, of the state as the necessary partner of the people, and of the people who were suspicious of the state as people who, at best, simply did not get this. Timothy McVeigh did that for him. And I remember how my heart sank when I heard about the Oklahoma bombing, and who had done it, and why, because I feared exactly the story switch that then happened.
Now the grumblers against taxes and regulations are back being the people. And the Democrats might yet find themselves losing their epic battle, the one which was supposed, in the words of Kyle-Anne Shiver, to have …
… delivered the plum of America to the international socialist collective, or at least pushed us past the point of no return.
Even if regular people forget what turned this kind of story around for Democrats last time around, Democrats surely do remember. And just in case anyone has forgotten what a difference Timothy McVeigh made to the story told by President Clinton in particular and the story of America in general, Clinton is himself now reminding everyone.
But Bill Clinton, not for the first time in his life, is taking a chance. The danger for the Democrats is that they risk looking like they want another Timothy McVeigh. As quite a few of them surely do.
However, if the Democrats do get lucky and another McVeigh really does materialise, there is a big difference between now and the time when the original McVeigh did his thing. Then, there was no internet. The story was whatever the then mainstream media decided it was. But that rule no longer applies.