Just a few days after the November election, Democratic strategist Mark Penn said out loud what many of his peers were thinking.
Penn told Chris Matthews on his MSNBC show, “Hardball,” that President Obama needed the kind of Reichstag moment Bill Clinton enjoyed after the Democrats’ electoral drubbing in 1994.
For the record, in 1933 Germany’s newly elected chancellor, Adolf Hitler, used the mysterious burning of the Reichstag building, the home of Germany’s parliament, to scapegoat the Communist Party and suspend civil liberties.
To be fair, Penn did not use the word “Reichstag,” but he might as well have. He told Matthews that it took the Oklahoma City bombing for Clinton to “reconnect” with the American people. He then ventured that Obama needed a “similar event” to compensate for his party’s midterm disaster.
In the Arizona shootings, his allies were all too eager to find that event. Knowing that their fondness for gun control cost them the 2000 presidential election – Gore lost both his own Tennessee and Clinton’s Arkansas – they have gone instead after political speech. As they are finding, however, Arizona is no Oklahoma City.
I saw something of the Oklahoma City strategy up close. On April 19, 1995, I was co-hosting a point-counterpoint radio show in Kansas City. My liberal partner and I followed developments In Oklahoma closely.
Early police reports and intelligence briefings led us all to believe that the bomb was the work of Islamic terrorists. But when the police identified McVeigh as a suspect two days later, my partner was absolutely gleeful.
This fellow is a wily and well-connected Democrat strategist. He went on the air and issued an all-points bulletin for McVeigh’s “co-conspirators, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.” He claimed that their “hate speech” and talk of revolution had inflamed the allegedly right-wing McVeigh.
My partner was simply following the DNC’s nationwide strategy. I know. I saw his faxes. Democrats – the president included – were spreading this same message all across America. Clinton was subtler than his supporters. He merely blamed the “purveyors of hate and division.” His apparatchiks filled in the blanks.
This president was a master of strategic grief counseling. He descended on Oklahoma City with an approval rating in the low 40s and left town with a rating well above 50 and the Republican revolution buried in the rubble. Late in the 1996 campaign, he confided to reporters that his road back to the White House began in Oklahoma City.
To make this strategy work, unfortunately, the White House had to ignore all possible Islamic terrorist connections. “Could the al-Qaida explosives expert have been introduced to the angry American who proclaimed his hatred for America?” asks Clinton anti-terror czar Richard Clarke of Terry Nichols’ visits to the Philippines. “We do not know, despite some FBI investigation.”
“Some FBI investigation”? Why was there not a massive FBI investigation? Every eyewitness who saw Timothy McVeigh on the morning of the 19th saw him with a short, swarthy co-conspirator. The White House’s “field commander,” that ultimate mistress of disaster, Jamie Gorelick, let that man slip away.
The quickly forgotten “John Doe No. 2” would have merely mucked up the picture. In Nichols and especially McVeigh, the White House and the media had found their poster boys for the perceived threats of the day, the militias and the Christian right, despite the fact that Nichols and McVeigh did not belong to a militia and McVeigh had long ago rejected Christianity.
This past week, my old radio partner was at it again, but he seemed unaware that he was operating in an Internet-driven, information-rich environment not yet realized in 1995 and unthinkable in 1933.
At a public forum, he challenged incumbent Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser with the Democratic talking points du jour. According to the Kansas City Star, my old partner “blamed the shooting on right-wing and tea-party vitriol fed by radio talk shows” and demanded that the mayor denounce the local talk shows on which he frequently appears.
To his credit, Funkhouser “rejected the idea that the vitriol comes only from the right.” And he reminded his very liberal audience of the “death threats he received” when he appointed a Minuteman to the city’s park board, a demure 73-year-old female rose gardener at that.
Funkhouser is running for re-election in February. Although historically a Democrat, the mayor cannot afford to offend the conservatives among the electorate with bad information. They know at least as much as the media do, and he knows it.
Democratic operatives and their media allies seem not to know or care. In their hunt for a new Reichstag, they bit too soon on a case so transparently specious that Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels would have been loathe to exploit it.
The accused arsonist in the Reichstag case was indeed a communist and may very well have started the fire. In the case of the Arizona shooting, only the hardest of the hard core on the left and the dimmest of the dim bulbs in the media cling to the notion that this sad, deranged, left-wing, pothead, Satanist, Karl Marx-fan was somehow inspired by Sarah Palin and/or Rush Limbaugh and/or the tea party.
Instead of provoking guilt on the right as intended, this “blood libel,” as Sarah Palin rightly called it, has provoked only outrage among a conservative base far better informed than the people paid to inform it.