April 19 not only marks the 16th anniversary of the horrific Oklahoma City bombing, but it is also a milestone that has political significance. It brought the beginning of the resuscitation of President Clinton’s sagging political fortunes, largely achieved through his own demagoguery and shameless exploitation of a tragedy.
Just days before the bombing that killed 168 people, Mr. Clinton called a press conference announcing he was “relevant.” The Republican Congress, led prominently by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was on a roll. Mr. Gingrich even gave a quasi-presidential address at the 100-day mark. But Mr. Clinton seized on the tragedy to rebound. Some steps were relatively benign. While Mr. Gingrich quietly toured the bombing site, Mr. Clinton famously led a well-received memorial service.
But within weeks, his dark political opportunism emerged. Mr. Clinton outrageously suggested that talk radio had created the environment for terrorism. There was minimal resistance to these egregious allegations. Conservatives were stunned, thinking them too obscene to rebut. Mr. Clinton paid no price and drew a larger lesson. His image as a national leader, even “healer,” was born, and he laid the groundwork for his similarly inflammatory suggestions about Republicans’ intentions to “gut” Medicare later that year. The GOP Congress never again held the upper hand.
Mr. Clinton’s opponents’ inability to forcefully refute him allowed his recovery to be born in the awful ashes of Oklahoma City. President Obama, as seen in his bizarre budget speech in the past week, is similarly driven and unwilling to concede any ground to his opponents. Conservatives should be on guard to openings that a similarly weakened president might take.
GREGORY C. MCCARTHY