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Bill Clinton talks up Timothy McVeigh

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.

22 comments to Bill Clinton talks up Timothy McVeigh

  • Those damn printing presses.

  • pollo

    To be fair the Tea Partiers raised the spectre of Timothy Mcviegh first by holding their “party” in Oklahoma on the 15th anniversery of the bombing. Also, I’d say that Bob Dole played no small part in Clinton’s ’96 victory, and if the narrative of American Politics has been that of the protective state I’d say that the real author of that story was none other that G.W Bush.

  • John B

    Yes, it is amazing, sometimes, the coincidences that rescue rightly highly unpopular, but necessary for the great enslavement, policies and people.
    Where would Hitler have been without a Reichstag fire, or 21st Century government without an economic collapse?

  • Surely the constant spectre of Islamic terrorism, as propagated by the Bush administration and the right wing news channels, not done that job quite irreversibly over the last ten odd years?

  • Sunfish

    To be fair the Tea Partiers raised the spectre of Timothy Mcviegh first by holding their “party” in Oklahoma on the 15th anniversery of the bombing.

    That’s odd. The 15th anniversary of the AMFB bombing is tomorrow, and therefore has not yet happened. The Oklahoma City Tea Party, on the other hand, was held last Wednesday, and therefore, already has happened.

    So your post confuses me.

  • Alice

    I don’t think that Timothy McVee can be blamed for Clinton’s re-election. A week in politics is a long time, as Harold Wilson is reputed to have said. And whoever might have been inclined to look more kindly on Big Government because of the Oklahoma City bombing would also have to have remembered the same Clinton Big Government burning the children of the Branch Davidians and then prosecuting the survivors for having failed to die.

    Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996 was due entirely to the Republicans’ choice of Bob Dole as their uninspired candidate. No disrespect to Bob Dole, who had the grace to retire from the Senate to pursue his presidential ambitions (unlike the current graceless occupier of the presidency) — but he had no message, no vision.

    With Clinton as unchallenged sitting President, Democrats were free to intervene in the Republican Primary and help the Republicans choose the candidate least likely to succeed. Not that the Republicans needed that much help to blow the election.

    By the way, doesn’t Bill Clinton sound OLD! Time passes, leaving the progressives behind.

  • Ian B

    … delivered the plum of America to the international socialist collective, or at least pushed us past the point of no return.

    Statism in the USA- and the rest of the west, which follows the statism of the American hegemony, these days- has sod all to do with international socialism. People really need to get past this idea that the USA is bravely struggling against an exogenous socialist invasion, the “Mark Steyn Narrative” as I like to think of it.

    American statism is simply Yankee hegemony, or, post Yankee hegemony or, to use Rothbard’s terminology since he wrote extensively on the subject, Post Millennialist Evangelical Pietism (which, since its evolution to a secularist technocratic form should have another “post” at the front thar).

    America does not import statism, it exports it; with Britain playing second fiddle. The american struggle is between the Yankees and the rest, as was the Civil War- which the Yankees won, cementing American political hegemony as interventionist, moralist yankeeism. Ever wondered why the only country in the world- and one, we are told, riddled with racism- sacrificed 10% of its male population in war to free slaves? Damn Yankees, that’s why.

    The USA’s liberty has not collapsed under foreign ideology. It has collapsed under internally generated statist forces which are clearly historically traceable to the Great Awakenings, particularly the second.

    Every major campaign of modern statism- all the justifying narratives regarding racism, rights groups, the environment, etc, are primarily American (with British assistance). America generates the lion’s share of the ideological dogma that drives modern statism forwards, the statism (or socialism, same thing) that returned to dominance when Marxism had had its day in the sun and gone home with blisters. American liberty collapsed under an onslaught of Yankee piety (just as Britain’s glimmer of liberty was destroyed by British pietist forces), and the American political struggle is between the inheritors of that Yankee statist tradition, and everybody else. They’re still fighting the Civil War.

  • Just as John B says, and nobody looks at the civil war in that way. Just as nobody looked until very recently about the Reichstag fire (I remember being taught in school in 1995 that it was just a ‘happy coincidence for the National Socialists).
    Hardly anyone gives credence to the very dodgy details surrounding the Oklahoma bombing (like the initial reports that more bombs were found in the building)…
    Oh, and I watched a fairly recent documentary just the other day still pushing the line that the Branch Davidians started the fire.

    The trouble is, once you start questioning things like that, what else could you start to question?

  • Sorry, that should say ‘Ian B’… don’t know what happened there! Combination of 8 hours of sunshine, volcano ash and a few tins of Stella, perhaps 😉

    Apologies to both.

  • Alice, completely agree with your analysis. I remember asking a US Marine Major (now Lt Colonel, Retired) I know when the Republicans were going to to run somebody electable.

  • Opposition parties in the US do have an astounding ability to field terrible candidates against sitting presidents – don’t they. John Kerry comes to mind. In both cases, the president was vulnerable to defeat by a decent opponent, but…

    Of course, Bill Clinton was a beneficiary of this, given that none of the supposed strong candidates from his party wanted to run against a sitting president in 1992.

  • Hmm, I just don’t remember this (“this” being not just the events but the story that was told about them, as you point out) the way you do. What I remember was not a change from “government is hostile” to “the government protects you” – apart from anything else, the government had just demonstrated that it could not protect the people killed in the bombing – but a change from “the most frightening bad guys are foreigners and broadly left wing” (Either commies or Arabs, and Arab terrorism had a more secular character back then) to “the most frightening bad guys are domestic and broadly right wing.” And/or “anti-state people are frightening”. Note that this narrative can deal with the Branch Davidians under the idea that, yes, sad about the kids, but the adults there brought it on themselves.

    The whole thing you cite about “the state as the necessary partner of the people” – how could anyone, anyone at all, derive that from the Oklahoma bombing?

  • MG

    Ian B,

    That’s nonsense.

    I used to hear most of it during the 70s and 80s from English socialists . . . but of course you’ve already dismissed inter/national socialism.



  • Slartibartfarst

    @Brian Micklethwait: Thanks for this post. Interesting.
    A request: Could you and other Samizdata posters be able to make the opening para of your posts more summary/concise/snappy?

    Reason: I only see the title, author and first 4 lines of the post in my Google Reader. If I don’t see something interesting in the seconds required to take that in, then I just move quickly on to the next entry. It’s the only way I can rapidly get through my reading list. It’s the way I scanned the newspapers – when I used to read them.

    I nearly flicked this one off in similar fashion as it made me doze off just reading it in G/Reader, but then I reflected that Brian Micklethwait usually seems to write fairly cogently, and so overcame my impatience and went to read the whole thing. I don’t know how many good posts I may have missed because they were not “snappy” enough in the opening para.

    (Thanks for listening.)

  • John B

    I think, also, one has to look beyond national and other localised bodies. While those who sought power by various means may have been present in the Yankees I don’t think the Yankees, as such, were IT.
    Likewise the Soviets and the nations of the West are and/or were perhaps agencies for other more international groupings that may have little to do with nationality or even ideology.
    I do think one has to look beyond what one accepts as being reality, because inevitably, that is the world view which one has been fed and perhaps needs to get beyond. If that view is concealing an agenda then perhaps all is not what it seems in ways that one might not have imagined.

  • mezzrow

    You can taste the yearning for the next McVeigh over here from the left and the media. They will find an event to market to the public as the next “fascist militia uprising” before we get to November. Look for a ramped-up progression of bearded guys in camo cleaning guns and talking about liberty on the nightly news. If they can’t find enough of them to present on NPR and the networks, we’ll start seeing this bogie-man in a lot of fictional storylines and the random Hollywood film. It won them the last war (the current scenario tastes just like 1994 to the Dems at this point – not so tasty) and the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the event kicks off the attempt at meme-implantation into the American public. Unfortunately (from their viewpoint) the way we communicate and get our news information is nothing like it was then. Not to missed is the promotion of Clinton as a Democratic face with proven appeal, unlike you-know-who and the clown college that is running Congress these days.

  • John B

    ” . . . The 550 billion dollar electronic run on the bank was no accident on September 11,2008. McCain was leading, but the financial meltdown opened the door for the Mansourian candidate.

    He has, inside of a year, destroyed our alliances, abandoned our allies, nationalized banks, insurance companies, and the automotive business, and rammed communist healthcare down our collective throats. He has bankrupted this country and stolen the wealth of our nation and our children. He has embraced Islamic anti-semitism, sanctioned the Islamic bomb of the Iranian mullahcracy, handed Russia Eastern Europe on a plate, thrown away our nuclear advantage, and despised us for our superiority. And then contemptuously told us to thank him and kiss his marxist ass. . . ”

    Courtesy Pamela Geller. The whole article is at Eurasia Review:


  • Ian B

    I’ve often wondered whether that wonderfully timed “failure of capitalism” was so very random. I’d love to have auditors crawl all over Soros’s accounts to see what he was doing with his money and market influence immediately before it.

  • Gabriel

    Ian B: Ha! And people here think I’m mental.

  • Owinok

    Not too sure that anyone can be certain Clinton would have lost save for Mc Veigh. And even if, that narrative of a crisis being the salvation of a political career reminds me a lot about the last US president. Didn’t he just have a “trifecta” from some crises too? In short, all politicians take advantage of such crises and I am unsure that another president would see it differently. Opportunism is perhaps an equal opportunity vice for politicians and their hacks.

  • John B

    Sure, Owinok, I don’t think that these things are planned and executed type scenario. Some may be, sometimes. I do think it is much more along the lines of opportunism, but I think it is very often more “hands on” than just seeing an opportunity and riding the fall out.
    Doors are left unlocked, or even open. Events are ignored until they are ripe. Trends are gently encouraged. Greed is nudged in the required direction. Foolish people are encouraged in their folly. Freedom that promotes license is endorsed. Straight thinking is set up for ridicule and mocked when it loses it.
    Much is probably not even intentional. Just the outworkings of fondly held beliefs and justifiable requirements.

  • ahem

    Ian: Absolute nonsense.