Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy..."

Understanding The Difference Between Criticizing A Policy And Demonizing A Government

This past week, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, former president Bill Clinton wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times upholding the value of dissent in American politics, while denouncing the rash of hate speech and the advocacy of violence which, too often, has become the hallmark of so-called "activists".

Of course, Clinton himself was immediately demonized -- even said to have been the cause of the Oklahoma City bombing -- by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Well, we take it from whence it comes...

Excerpted below is the Times Op-Ed piece. It is worthy of a full read, and, thereafter, more than due consideration.

The right of dissent, and to peaceably petition to redress grievances, is paramount in the American democracy. The threat of a violent overthrow of our government, the dismantling of its institutions, and the viscious personal attacks upon our elected leaders, have no place here.
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From The New York Times:

...we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, the second anniversary of the assault of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty.

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.

Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. 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.

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.

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.

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