Ambrose: Applying Clinton’s logic, there’s no such thing as liberty 

For a stumbling, disingenuous, self-contradicting commentary, you couldn’t do much better than a Bill Clinton op-ed piece in The New York Times that on the one hand states the obvious while coming very close to saying people fearful of big government ought to shut up, only they shouldn’t.
 
What the former president is doing, without being honest enough to tell you he is doing it, is going after the critics of President Barack Obama and his policies and making it sound as if some significant number of them are exceeding reasonable bounds.
 
His technique is to link fear of overreaching governmental intrusiveness with a horrendous event, the 1995 bomb attack in which 168 people were killed in an Oklahoma City federal office building.
 
Criticism of government led us to that tragedy, Clinton writes. Even though government watches out for our freedoms every way possible, he says, some talked about government abusing freedom and then unhinged, alienated souls took this idea to the extreme of believing  murder could be a “blow for liberty.”
 
You could easily understand him as meaning that people should back off from asserting that government is eating away at our liberties, but then — apparently figuring someone might notice he is coming close to a rant against free speech — he says that even “harsh criticism” can be more than acceptable. It can be a civic virtue. Criticism is the “lifeblood of democracy.”
 
Here’s the thing, he tells us: No one should advocate violence or be violent. But of course. All of us who are not ourselves seriously disturbed would agree to that. Was that his point all along? Does he also want to tell us that bank robbery is bad? He then adds that we also need to watch out for  “demonizing” government.
 
If Clinton was really, truly serious here, even minimally engaged with making a point that would instruct more than smear, he would give us at least one example and maybe several of the demonizing speech he thinks crosses the line.
 
Am I allowed to say that ever higher taxes do in fact affect my freedom to spend my money the way I choose?
 
That nanny-state encroachments treating us all like children are themselves evidence of the utter incompetence of the politicians watching over us?
 
That excessive regulations and enormous growth in social spending are a form of economy-choking, autonomy-restricting European-style socialism?
 
That the federal government has no right to tell Americans they have to buy health insurance?
 
That the federal government is nowhere close to abiding by the limits outlined in the Constitution and that the Supreme Court has had an off-and-on history  especially since the New Deal of winking at the clear meaning of constitutional language?
 
That American history is in fact peppered with liberty-denying incidents, such as leftist-loved President Franklin Delano Roosevelt putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps, and that we must be eternally vigilant about the interventions of government in our lives because it alone has coercive power over us that’s legal?
 
I don’t doubt that now as always there are fringe elements saying unacceptably outrageous things, but let’s be specific without implying it’s something common in our discourse, let’s recognize that tough criticisms come from all sides of the political spectrum and let’s not fall into the trap of arguing we should curb any speech that might conceivably set off the mentally unbalanced.
 
Even the most circumspect speech could do that, and certainly the kind of speech that describes Republicans as constituting the compassionless, obstructionist, opportunistic, bitterly partisan party of no.
 
Use Clinton’s originally implied criterion and virtually all political speech stops.

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Jay Ambrose

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