On this fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, President Bill Clinton draws lessons that are especially applicable to today's dangerously polarized atmosphere. We have all heard the right-wing demonization of "government bureaucrats"; Clinton reminds us that among those who lost their lives were government workers dedicated to helping others:
Most of the people killed that day were employees of the federal government. They were men and women who had devoted their careers to helping the elderly and disabled, supporting our veterans and enforcing our laws. They were good neighbors and good friends. One of them, a Secret Service agent named Al Whicher, a husband and father of three, had been on my presidential security detail. Nineteen children also lost their lives.
The bombers were convinced that government is the enemy of freedom and that they could murder their way to liberty. They profoundly misunderstood the nature of dissent and freedom:
Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom.
Clinton warns those who employ irresponsible rhetoric that they should consider their words before they inspire others to cross the line into violence. His message directly applies to the threats against lawmakers who passed health care reform:
...As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.
...Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.