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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Clinton Goes to Oklahoma City Again

Former President Bill Clinton tries to connect the dots again between dissent and violence.

While it is not a surprise, given the nature of his political inner beast, that he would dust off an argument that did not work the first time, 15 years ago, it is still disappointing. And Oklahoma's US senators will have none of it. While Tom Coburn dismissed the former president's remarks as cheapening Oklahoma City's tragedy, Jim Inhofe was more direct:
People in Oklahoma are much more offended by his remarks than those in Washington. For those of us in Oklahoma, it is a huge deal. We think of it in terms of personal losses. For him to exploit our personal losses for personal and political gain is unconscionable.

Despite not moving to Oklahoma City until 18 months after the bombing, I can relate to Sen. Inhofe's comments. Whenever anyone visited us for the first time during the 7 years we lived there, we always took them to Ground Zero.

There was no avoiding the feeling each time; that steady, steely burn those of us outside New York and DC felt in the wake of September 11th. Multiply it by an order of magnitude and you start getting close to the response of seeing the shell of the Alfred P. Murrah building, the tattered Water Resources Board building, and particularly the chain link fence covered with notes, pictures, flowers, stuffed animals and the like. Despite being downtown, the site was always quiet, adding to the emotion.

That it was two domestic malcontents only added to the nonsensical nature of it. A foreign attack is at least comprehensible. This was something different. And, no, it was not fomented by talk radio. The president was as wrong then as he is now. The seeds then were sown in the minds of the wing nuts by not one, but two, pooch screws by the Justice Department in the two and a half years prior. Nevertheless, the operative phrase here is "wing nuts." Extremists acting in isolation.

President Clinton correctly describes how extreme the views and actions that day 15 years ago were, as well as how today we are "more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears." But it is simply wrong to think that such interconnection and access create or fill echo chambers of extremism. Rather, having more real connections builds solidarity.

We became friends with a woman, who was injured in the Water Resources Board building. One of our children's teachers lost her husband that day. A family in the neighborhood next to ours lost a wife and mother. It was not difficult to form multiple one-degree-of-separation relationships. For example, not even transplants would think of naming their boys "Timothy" when we lived there, much less natives, out of deference to the unfortunate pain linked to the name; I don't imagine it has changed much today. For his notorious ability to connect with people, it would seem Mr. Clinton failed to make a meaningful connection (beyond his "I feel your pain" boilerplate) with the people of Oklahoma City.

To link what is happening with the Tea Party movement today with the motivations and world views behind the Oklahoma City bombing is bad analysis at best. And, as a former Oklahoman who wasn't even there when that act of evil was committed, I, for one, find it untenable.

May no city, no state, no nation ever have to endure something like it. And let us hope to recognize that personal connections like those forged in the aftermath are a key to preventing it from happening again.

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