Rhetoric has heated up since Oklahoma City Bombing

Published in part in The Denver Post on July 21, 1995.


In her letter of July 11, Sylvia Clark repeatedly describes her political opponents as being on the "far right". Her rhetoric is, in all fairness, rather innocuous. She could have called her opponents members of the "extreme right," or accused them of "flirting with fascism." She could have equated those who would cut public funds for family planning with those who shoot abortionists. Alas, however, too many liberals nowadays seem unable to refrain from such inflated rhetoric.

Had I opened this letter by describing Ms. Clark as a "lackey of the godless, Stalinist left" you could bet your house that it would never be printed. The John Birch Society has long been widely ridiculed as being too quick to label people who disagree with it as Communists. At one point in the 1988 presidential campaign, charges of "McCarthyism" were leveled against those who called Michael Dukakis a liberal. Why must we act with such restraint when talking about, well, liberals, when it is perfectly okay to be so reckless when criticizing conservatives?

Such rhetorical excess has never been more en vogue than in the two months since the Oklahoma City bombing. We are told that this tragedy resulted not from a diabolical plot by a few evil malcontents, but rather from various, impersonal "dark forces" which must be "purged." Politicians and the media used the tragedy to demonize gun owners, religious believers, anti-tax activists, libertarians, militias, the new Republican majority, and talk -- or should I say hate? -- radio.

The common denominator linking these entities is that they support less government that the liberal establishment. Saying that those responsible for the Oklahoma City tragedy were opponents of big government as we know it is like saying that Hitler preferred blondes. Too many liberals, though, seem unable to make such distinctions among their opponents.

If a belief in limited government is a "far right" notion, then the U.S. Constitution must be a "far right" tract. Henry David Thoreau, who went to jail rather than pay taxes to a government which supported slavery and fought a war which he deemed immoral, must have been a "right wing extremist." Justice Brandeis must have been a far right psychopath when he wrote that people have a "right to be left alone."

George Orwell once wrote that sloppy thinking produces sloppy language, and vice versa. Examples of this phenomenon appear on the Op-Ed pages daily. Ms. Clark's letter is but one case in point.

Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman

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