WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Clinton delivered a keynote speech at a symposium commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Democratic Leadership Council. President Clinton’s speech drew parallels between the political climate in the United States leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing during his first term as president and some of the hateful rhetoric in today’s politics. Clinton emphasized the importance of the political debate and the power of words used by people in positions of power.
On why words matter:
"But what we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter because there are – there’s this vast echo chamber. And they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious, alike; they fall on the connected and the unhinged, alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody. But one of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have, and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have."
On critiquing the government:
"Look, criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. Nobody’s right all the time. But Oklahoma City proved once again that, beyond the law, there is no freedom. And there is a difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedom and the public servants who implement them. And the more prominence you have in politics or media or some other pillar of life, the more you have to keep that in mind."
On the Tea Party movement:
"But I think that the point I’m trying to make is, I like the debate. This "tea party" movement can be a healthy thing if they’re making us justify every penny of taxes we raised and every dollar of public money we spend. And they say they’re for limited government and a balanced budget; when I left office, we had the smallest workforce since Eisenhower and we had four surpluses for the first time in 70 years."
"Yes, the Boston Tea Party involved the seizure of tea in a ship because it was taxation without representation, because even the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had been largely self-governing, had it stripped from them. This is about—this fight is about taxation by duly, honestly elected representatives that you don’t happen to agree with, that you can vote out at the next election, and two years after that, and two years after that, and two years after that."
Read the full transcript of President Clinton’s speech here.
Watch the video of President Clinton’s speech, here.