Most everyone on the right and many in the middle and a few on the left correctly condemned Bill Clinton’s attack on Rush Limbaugh in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but now many who condemned Clinton then are pointing fingers at MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio and even President Obama for fueling a climate of anti-police hatred that has encouraged violence directed at the men and women in blue. Is it possible to be both condemning of Clinton for making a false linkage in 1995 and then, nearly two decades later, make the same sort of linkage in a different setting?
The answer of course is yes, because the issue is causation. Not all allegations of tortious conduct end up with verdicts against the accused, but many do. It depends on the sequence familiar to any first year law student: liability for torts depends upon a showing of proof of duty, breach, injury, causation –actual (“but-for”) and proximate (“legal”)– and damages. Many claims of liability for injuries suffered fail on the causation prong of the proof sequence –the links are too tenuous.
That was the case in 1995 –there was zero link between Rush’s programming and Timothy McVeigh. Today’s critiques of Sharpton et al for the deaths of NYPD officers Ramos and Liu rest on the persuasiveness of the argument that they contributed to the killer’s murderous actions, and are not more or less persuasive because Clinton launched a terribly unjust attack two decades ago.
To be clear: Everyone has to make their own judgment, but that Bill Clinton made a terrible argument in 1995 shouldn’t foreclose an inquiry into cause and effect in 2014, a subject I discussed with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol today:
HH: I’m joined now by the editor of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol. Hello, Bill, thank you for joining me at these holiday times.
BK: Happy to be with you, Hugh, happy holidays.
HH: Thank you, and to you. Now the story of the hour is Mayor de Blasio today who both gave a speech and a press conference. In the latter, he blamed the media for creating the climate. Charles Krauthammer said earlier on this show in the first hour the President should be embarrassed by Sharpton. He also said that Sharpton had imposed on Ferguson and Staten Island the issue of race. And questions today are being raised about culpability. What do you make about the general argument about the assassination of Officer Ramos and Liu being linked to anyone other than the killer?
BK: Look, the killer’s responsible, and I think you and I have argued this for years. You take one event, a country of 320 million people, and you all of a sudden want to start blaming broader social trends or forces. On the other hand, the killer did say that it was revenge for the, I guess, for these two incidents. And these two incidents have been distorted and hyped pretty consciously by people in the media like Al Sharpton, and unfortunately by political leaders like de Blasio. I mean, I said this on Morning Joe. I was in New York. I was really struck, incidentally, how much people in New York, how upset they are, and these are, you know, the cameramen and the cab drivers. And I don’t know what their politics are. But I mean, they are with the cops, and they are not happy that their own mayor has felt that this was a good chance to give lectures about three centuries of racism and about what he tells his son in private about dealing with cops. And you know, the guy was grandstanding. The guy was using it as an opportunity to make political points. And now, something terrible happens, maybe somewhat related to what he did, and now it’s all hey, these radical protesters, I had nothing to do with them. It was all peaceful protesters. I was on the train back to D.C. during the press conference, and I just read some of the transcript. What were these peaceful protesters, according to de Blasio, protesting? I mean, he’s the mayor of the city. Was it the Democratic governor? Was it President Obama, the president of the United States? Eric Holder’s the attorney general. If they want policy changes, they should pick up the phone and get their, get the people who they voted for to put through those policy changes. The Republican Congress isn’t blocking anything they want to do. You know what I mean? So when they endorse this kind of protest, it’s the sort of 60s protest against the society. That’s what they’re doing. There’s no practical public policy issue here.
HH: Now but here’s the difficult issue, or actually the dilemma. Most everyone on the right, many people in the middle and a few on the left correctly condemned Bill Clinton when in 1995 he attacked Rush Limbaugh for enabling McVeigh.
HH: So now people are critiquing Al Sharpton, de Blasio, even President Obama for this anti-police climate and the violence that occurred. And the answer is can you have it both ways. I think it depends upon making causation arguments very carefully, and that bad arguments by Bill Clinton or in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting, as you recall…
HH: The people were trying to blame the Tea Party, and I objected strenuously with that, because the causation wasn’t there. Charles was making the argument, and I wonder if you make the argument, that this is actually different, that we can see better proximate cause. There are two kinds of cause, but for and proximate, that we can actually see a connection here where there was no connection to be seen in 1995 or in Arizona?
BK: No, I think there’s some, I said there was a connection in the murder, and you know, maybe he was crazy and he was whatever he was. And I wouldn’t want to make too much of the rest of that. I would just make the point, I guess, in our defense, as if we would have to defend ourselves, we were criticizing de Blasio and Sharpton last week. I mean, the murders are horrible, and of course, take it to a new level. But what they were doing was wrong. They were inciting racial turmoil. They were pushing their own left wing agenda using these deaths as an excuse to do so. And so I don’t feel like, you know, it’s not like I’ve been quiet about this for three months and just suddenly popped up. So I feel totally entitled to say that de Blasio’s been behaving irresponsibly. I’m not blaming him for the murders, but in an irresponsible climate, this is something that could happen. But even if it hadn’t happened, I think he’s done a lot of damage. And President Obama and Eric Holder have done damage to race relations. I mean, I really am personally distressed about this. It’s one of the things I didn’t like President Obama when we elected him, and I was unhappy when he was reelected, and don’t like his policies at all. But the one thing I did think honestly is that maybe he would sort of put, you know, improve race relations. And I think they were actually getting pretty good in America, honestly, after Bush. There weren’t that many racial incidents. People weren’t in a state, there were African-Americans who were secretary of state and in every high position in the land, obviously, and people thought, you know, we were moving the way we should have as a society. But I thought maybe President Obama would kind of complete that movement. And he set it back, and that’s bad for the country.
HH: Yeah, there are two things I want you to react to, Bill Kristol. One of them is astounding, and one of them is appalling. Let’s go with the appalling one first. This is from Bill Bratton, who you know, I was in Boston when he was in Boston, and I covered him in L.A. You know, he’s back in New York now after a tour of duty. He’s a very responsible, sober guy. And here’s what he said this morning about events today, cut number two of Bratton.
WB: 1970, when I first came into policing, my first ten years were around this type of tension. Who would have ever thought déjà vu all over again, that we would be back where we were forty some-odd years ago. I think this one is a little different, though, in the sense of the social media capabilities to spread the word constantly. We had now, this is the seventh incident in which two police officers have been killed together in New York in the last forty some-odd years. In the 70s, we saw three incidents like this in a very short period of time. But we’re in a change moment, I think, is the term here in the United States. And the idea is to take out of this crisis, find opportunity to move it forward. And I think that can happen. It’s why I came back into the department a year ago. And we will seize on this tragedy. We’ll seize on all of these issues, and we’ll move forward.
HH: Now Bill Kristol, what’s appalling about that is I moved to New York as a very young man with Richard Nixon in 1980 at the end of the 70s, right? It was awful. It was a horrible place. And I can’t believe Bill Bratton thinks we’re back in the 70s. Do you think that’s overstatement? Or is he just peering just a little around the corner that I don’t want to look around?
BK: Well, I mean, it’s not empirically true, obviously. I remember New York in the 70s, and one of the great achievements of Rudy Giuliani and Bloomberg, and of Ray Kelly and Bratton himself, the first year or two of Giuliani, was the huge reduction in crime, and the fact that the city if safe, and is therefore booming. So it’s a little silly, I think, to say that we’re back in the 70s. And maybe he sees that coming again. That would be horrible, if true. And look, he must know that, I mean, I don’t know what he thinks privately, but I’ve got to think he knows that his boss made the situation worse, not better.
HH: I agree, and here is his boss with the astounding comment. It’s, he’s at a press conference this afternoon just a couple of hours ago. Here’s Bill de Blasio.
Reporter: …the protesters as people working to advance justice in society. The chants that we’re hearing at the protests, NYPD=KKK, How Do You Spell Racist? = KKK, would you be comfortable with your young adults in your household chanting like this at the protest? And we’re hearing this at virtually every protest.
BdB: No, of course not.
Reporter: What do you make of these specific, as well as the young students who are literally getting in the cops’ faces and yelling at them murderer, murderer.
Bdb: Well, we’ve talked about this so many times, and I’m going to talk about it again. And now the question is what are you guys going to do? What are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep dividing us? I’m not talking about every single one of you. But let’s get real. Just in that question, 25,000 people…
HH: Bill Kristol, he blamed the media. It’s astonishing.
BK: It is amazing, a guy who rode the media to his election. But again, what’s the point? Let’s even take away the bad, the really reprehensible and disgusting protests and just talk about the “peaceful protests.” What was the point of that? What do they want? I mean, is there some change in policing that de Blasio and Bratton have not instituted? He’s their guy, de Blasio. The protests are an attempt to whip up anger, and it’s totally irresponsible.
HH: It’s an organizing tool, isn’t it?
BK: I guess, yeah. Yeah, so that’s great. They’re using the deaths, unfortunate deaths of this guy on Staten Island to organize and whip people up, and then de Blasio’s pretending that’s a high and noble thing, I suppose. And incidentally, they were not, I mean, Al Sharpton and the others did not exactly go out of their way to denounce the people there who were getting in the policemen’s faces and harassing them and saying terrible things to them. So I don’t have much sympathy for the protesters or for the defenders of the protests.
HH: And so the question becomes Al Sharpton has been to the White House 61 times.
BK: (laughing) Right?
HH: Hillary Clinton called and wished him a happy birthday on his birthday, as was widely reported. Is this acceptable? Charles said it’s disgraceful. What do you think?
BK: Yeah, I agree. People have to, I mean, he is a guy who has not been responsible for 20 years, and it’s really unfortunate. It’s really unfortunate. President Obama must know better. That’s not, that’s really is what’s so distressing. It’s just hard to believe that he and Eric Holder have decided to sort of play this card. It was clear during the election year. And this was reported by the front page of the New York Times. They wanted him to get African-American turnout in the election up, and that required mobilization and organizing, and getting people, African-Americans more upset about conservatives and Republicans, and yes, cops. I mean, let’s be honest. De Blasio said let’s be real. Let’s be real. That was a political strategy.
HH: Sure, it was. And do you expect, with 30 seconds, Bill Kristol, to see or hear Hillary Clinton say anything about this? Or is she going into her invisible mode?
BK: Certainly going into her invisible mode. But it is, you know, it will be curious to be, at some point, presumably someone’s going to ask her, and maybe she’ll blame the media like de Blasio. Wasn’t she there at de Blasio’s inauguration when she’s, in her attempt to court the left? Does she now, is she on board with de Blasio and Al Sharpton?
HH: That is the question that should be asked, but she is again, when she becomes invisible, no one can find her. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, thank you so much.
End of interview.