Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Oklahoma Plays Inside the Beltway Clinton Gets Boost as Focus Shifts to Thwarting Terrorism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Oklahoma Plays Inside the Beltway Clinton Gets Boost as Focus Shifts to Thwarting Terrorism

Article excerpt

AS with any profoundly important event, the devastating bombing in Oklahoma has begun to alter the American political landscape.

After a solemn weekend fulfilling his role as the nation's "lead mourner," President Clinton has charted a multitrack approach to handling the aftermath of Oklahoma: Emphasize calls for swift justice for the killers, promote enhanced ability of law enforcement to monitor paramilitary groups, and assail the "loud and angry voices" that are whipping up antigovernment sentiment.

On the first point, the nation stands united in its horror over the April 19 attack on the federal building, as reflected this week in a resolution sponsored by Oklahoma Republican Sens. Don Nickles and James Inhofe condemning the bombing.

On the second, an enduring debate about balancing public protection and civil liberties has resurfaced as Congress prepares for debate on antiterrorism legislation. In a subsidiary theme, opponents of gun control are reportedly retooling their strategy to lift restrictions on gun ownership.

And on the third, politics is breaking out all over. Even though Mr. Clinton hasn't blamed conservative talk radio overtly in his blandishments about the dangers of antigovernment rhetoric -- perhaps in an effort to maintain the high ground -- conservative talk-show hosts have taken offense and entered the fray.

The bombers were "a fringe element that is always going to be out there," radio host Oliver North said Tuesday. "They're not encouraged by talk-show hosts...."

For now, Clinton has earned high marks for his performance. The latest CNN-Gallup Poll shows that the president's general approval rating rose from 47 percent on April 21 to 58 percent on April 23.

But Clinton's aides are clearly concerned that he not be seen as overtly politicizing a tragic event. After his veiled attack on conservative talk show hosts, delivered in a speech to the American Association of Community Colleges in Minneapolis on April 24, top deputies were reportedly insisting that he was not targeting right-wing talk radio in particular. They reminded reporters of his calls for public civility in his state of the union address.

Politics are a part

Still, it would be naive to think the president -- or any politician -- will divorce politics from anything he or she does. "We have to keep in mind that a person can be an elected official with responsibilities and a person concerned with reelection," says Michael Traugott, a political scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. "It's not crass to consider both."

Another presidential contender, Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, has gotten free air time from the Oklahoma attack, including a prime-time appearance on CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday night. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is holding hearings this week on the bombing, Senator Specter has been a relevant congressional figure on the matter. …

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