What Bill Clinton doesn’t understand about George Washington 

Bill Clinton has an op-ed in today’s New York Times marking the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. There’s something unsavory about the op-ed, as Ann Althouse notes, the overall effect is “here is Bill Clinton using his special prominence today to unleash a political attack to push back a populist movement that threatens his political party.”

While I would agree with the general thought that violence is anathema to civic virtue, our 42nd president seems to have a very poor grasp of what civic virtue meant in regards to our first president:

Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy. That is the bright line that protects our freedom. It has held for a long time, since President George Washington called out 13,000 troops in response to the Whiskey Rebellion.

Reading this you might not realize George Washington’s chief qualification for president that he successfully led an armed rebellion against his own government. Witness this bold justification of anti-government violence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

Obviously, I hope we’re all mature enough to note this contradiction without some liberal blogger shrieking that I’m condoning violence by pointing this out. [Ed. note: Fat chance.] But I only say this to make the point that political violence is a thorny issue that crosses a lot of the pat ideological boundaries. Further, it’s an issue that has been with us since before the Whiskey Rebellion and always will be an unfortunate reality. I don’t say that because I’m resigned to it or not committed to preventing future political violence, but I think it’s a tribute to the relative amount of freedom we possess that we don’t see more political violence.

This is why accurate context is important when it comes to political violence. For instance, we’ve seen someone crash plane into an IRS building and quote the communist manifesto as justification, and another person go on a shooting rampage at the holocaust museum yet also have the offices of The Weekly Standard on his target list. Neither of these actions fit neatly on a left-right continuum.

But that still doesn’t stop anyone from manipulating the narrative of each violent event to seize the moral high ground. And even though I don’t have high expectations for Clinton, I find it sad to see that the former president is not above this sort of manipulation.

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Mark Hemingway

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