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Legitimate grievance, not racist anger

It's understandable that the disquiet rampant in Middle America and expressed so vividly by the so-called tea partiers should prompt such angst amongst the Guardians of Correct Thought. To Frank Rich, former theater critic turned political pundit for The New York Times, it's a matter of racism. His latest rant on that theme is titled "Welcome to Confederate History Month." In this 1,400-word column, he manages to interpret the anger of Americans opposed to Obamacare, infuriated by the continuing bailout of the fat cats on Wall Street, concerned about joblessness and underemployment, and worried about the countless trillions of dollars being amassed in our collective debt, as being a sure sign of their persistent, vile racism, as expressed, for example, in Virginia's Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell's issuing a state proclamation celebrating April as Confederate History Month.

It's surely a blessing for Mr. Rich and his kind that the current occupant of the White House is a black man. That happy fact allows commentators on the political left to assume the high ground and unleash volleys of invective at the great unwashed milling about below. If the president were a white person of the hard left, presumably the matters referred to above would take place without such a tempest. The millions of the formerly employed would acquiesce to shouldering whatever burdens were placed on them without complaint. The tea partiers would presumably stay home and not express their outrage over the causes of the Great Recession and the threat it represents to their retirements, the future prospects of their children and grandchildren, and to the future of the republic itself. They would be accepting of the greatly increased taxes they'll be paying in the years to come if only the president wasn't so doggone dark complexioned.

Joe Klein of Time magazine went so far as to insinuate that Sarah Palin and Glen Beck could well be guilty of sedition (incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government) for their comments at gatherings of the discontented. Forget the First Amendment. That only applies when lefties express their anger, such as when George W. Bush was portrayed as Hitler or with a bullet hole in his forehead. The president himself seems to regard the opposition to his policies as somewhat of a joke. He said most of the tea partiers ought to thank him for tax breaks they enjoy because of his stimulus plan. He apparently thinks there's nothing much to worry about with this public discontent. If so, he's not on the same page with his defenders, who seem a tad hysterical about the whole thing.

Then there is former president Bill Clinton, under whose name a column appeared in The New York Times on Monday, the 15 anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was titled "Violence Is Unacceptable in a Democracy," and echoes his response to the incident when it happened. In short, that people who distrust government help fuel the fire in people like Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 149 people. That expressing opposition to government is kind of, sort of, being complicit in mass murder.

Journalist James Bovard calls this "A Lethal Hypocrisy." "Casting a net of collective guilt over much of the contiguous 48 states," says Mr. Bovard, "Clinton announced that the 1995 bombing was the fault of people who believed ‘that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.' People who distrusted government helped echo ideas that somehow persuaded ‘deeply alienated and disconnected' Americans to carry out the attack.

"Clinton declared that ‘we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don't get our way.' Unless you're the government, that is." Bovard goes on to elaborate on the violent actions initiated by the federal government during the Clinton years, including the bombing of Serbia, which killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of Serbian civilians, and the enforcement of sanctions against Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

Mr. Clinton's op/ed does mention, but only in passing, that the OKC bombing took place on the second anniversary of the final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. There is no mention that it was the killing of 80 American men, women and children as FBI tanks leveled the Davidian home that triggered the subsequent actions of Gulf War veteran McVeigh, not the exhortations of radio hosts or militia members.

They may not be your cup of tea, but the tea partiers are not violent. They exist as a political force, the ultimate effect of which remains undetermined. They make the rulers nervous, and I'm all for that.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL .com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is

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