Copyright 1995 Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.
THE PHOENIX GAZETTE
May 1, 1995 Monday, Final
SECTION: EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. B7
LENGTH: 775 words
HEADLINE: CHEAP TALK; THIS ISN'T THE TIME FOR POLITICAL BLAME
BYLINE: JOHN KOLBE, POLITICAL COLUMNIST
Such acts are . . . stimulated by forces of hatred and malevolence . . . (by) those who would themselves recoil from assassination, but who do not shrink from spreading the venom which kindles thought of it in others.
- Earl Warren
We hear so many loud and angry voices . . . today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible . . . They spread hate. They leave the impression that . . . violence is acceptable . . . (in) some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America. - Bill Clinton The late chief justice, speaking over the casket of John F. Kennedy, and the president, fresh from the rubble of Oklahoma City, were speaking of the same people - the bigots, the radio haters, the kindlers of "venomous thoughts." In 1995, as in 1963, those are code words for the far right. Clinton had the easier time of it, for despite early reports of "Middle Eastern" suspects, the apparent bomber turned out to be a right-wing cuckoo. (The White House later insisted Clinton wasn't "pointing his finger" at any individuals. But given his past diatribes about Rush Limbaugh and talk show "hate preachers," his targets weren't hard to discern.) Warren's problem, however, was the reverse of Clinton's. When shots were fired in Dallas, speculation quickly focused on local rightists. But when the gunman was captured only hours later, he was a Castro sympathizer. Undaunted, Warren plowed ahead as if Lee Oswald were a John Bircher. THEIR REMARKS, separated by 32 years and countless acts of senseless violence, reflect a troubling reality: American public discourse has been so corrupted that we seek political advantage even in our most abject grief. And make no mistake, political advantage is what this debate is about. For there is no conclusive evidence - none - to suggest that the mad act of either the Dallas or Oklahoma City murderers was born in the rantings of mindless talk shows or paranoid gun freaks. Granted, it's not unreasonable to think that Tim McVeigh, the accused bomber, and his John Doe colleagues may have found comfort in the ignorant and conspiratorial drivel that often spews from the radio or from militia groups. But to imply that the bomb issued directly from the blather is a breathtaking leap of logic unsupported by any facts now known. None of which is to suggest that our civic discourse couldn't stand to be more civil. Clearly, it could. The airwaves would improve markedly with less Liddy and more Liszt, although there's something to be said for the safety valve that such call-in shows offer to frustrated paranoiacs. But the sort of rhetoric emitting from Clinton and others betrays two disturbing tendencies in our national dialogue. One is to assign political blame for non-political events. In its eagerness to find rational explanations for irrational acts, American society has spawned a culture of victimology in which there's no room for the kind of unspeakable evil we saw in Oklahoma. Since no sane person could commit such a monstrous horror, we reason he must have been goaded on by others. What we miss, of course, is the plain fact that madness needs no reason. A second tendency, closely related, is to believe such evil has only one political coloration, as if madness has any politics. But think about it. The so-called Unabomber, who differs in malevolence from McVeigh only in his level of efficiency, said in a letter last week that "we are out to get scientists and engineers . . . (to) give encouragement to those who hate the industrial system." Should we should blame Ralph Nader, who has said auto companies "are going to kill a lot of people?" LOS ANGELES erupted in fire and looting, but no one pointed fingers at Martin Luther King, who called urban riots "a durable social phenomenon," or at Floyd McKissick, the former head of the Congress of Racial Equality, who observed that "black people don't own Harlem, so why should (they) care whether it burns down or not." As for the militiamen's poisonous view of government, certainly none can rival the vast murderous conspiracy portrayed in "JFK" by Oliver Stone. Yet Stone, a man of the left, isn't excoriated by the president. He is showered with honors by Hollywood. Let us lower the decibels, the Gordon Liddys who inflame tempers in search of ratings, and the Bill Clintons who seek to assign blame where none exists. Then, maybe the healing can begin.