WHAT a difference an election can make.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, we were told by leading liberal pundits and Democratic politicians from Jan. 20, 2001, to Jan. 19, 2009.
Their attitudes have changed since Jan. 20, 2009. Today, some criticism of the President is "borderline sedition," said Time columnist Joe Klein. It could lead to another Oklahoma City bombing, warned former President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Clinton expressed in the New York Times his fear that harsh criticism by talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and others could inspire another Timothy McVeigh, the white supremacist who was executed for his part in the April 19, 1995, bombing at the Oklahoma City federal building in which 168 people were killed.
But McVeigh made it clear that what provoked him was the FBI assault precisely two years earlier on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in which 76 people - 20 of them children - burned to death.
McVeigh was an extremist. There is no excuse for what he did. But he was motivated not by criticism of the size and scope of the federal government, but by an action of the Clinton administration that went wrong.
"If there would not have been a Waco, I would have put down roots somewhere and not been so unsettled with the fact that my government was a threat to me," the Associated Press quoted McVeigh shortly before his execution in 2001.
It is a despicable smear to attempt to link critics of the tax, spending, and regulatory policies of the Obama Administration to McVeigh. Imagine how Mr. Clinton and Mr. Klein would howl if it were asserted that those who protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, last November that left 13 dead.
No prominent conservative has asserted that, of course. But it's a meme on the left that the Tea Party movement is composed of angry, knuckle-dragging bigots one Limbaugh broadcast away from insurrection and murder. The only violence reported at Tea Party rallies has come when left wingers assaulted protesters.
In St. Louis last August, Kenneth Gladney, who is black, was so badly beaten by three Service Employees International Union thugs that he had to be hospitalized. At a town hall meeting in Tampa the same day, a local Democratic Party official struck Barry Osteen, who was arguing about Obamacare with her husband.
It's understandable why Democrats fear the Tea Party movement. On March 27, a Tea Party rally in the desert outside tiny Searchlight, Nev., hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, drew a crowd estimated by the Las Vegas Review Journal at 8,000 and by other news organizations at as many as 20,000 people. A few days later, Mr. Reid kicked off his re-election campaign in Searchlight, "cheered on by more than 100 close supporters," said the Review-Journal.
What terrifies Democrats is not the number or size of party rallies, but the fact that they are occurring at all. For more than a century, the protest demonstration has been almost exclusively a left-wing thing. Conservatives just don't demonstrate. The Tea Party indicates an unprecedented level of street activism on the right.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last December indicated the party was more popular than either Democrats or Republicans.
Respondents approved of the Tea Party, 41 percent to 23 percent. More disapproved of both the Republican Party (28-43) and the Democratic Party (35-45) than approved of them.
So the Tea Party must be smeared, lest it gain even more adherents.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: jkelly@ post-gazette.com