THE bombing in Oklahoma is over two weeks old now, and the commentators are running out of things to say. I came across one piece in The Washington Post - by a fellow of supposedly rational reputation called Tom Edsall Jr. - who traced the murderous anger of the alleged perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, to the rise of the women's movement and the decline in status of the vaginal orgasm.
Said decline, in Edsall's estimation, makes white men angry and prompts them to buy fertilizer and fuel oil and blow up federal buildings. Of course, you could argue it the other way and claim that the alleged fall in status of the vaginal orgasm took the pressure off men and reduced their stress levels and hence their tendency to detonate bombs.
At this level of silliness, we can expect the organic farm movement to use the Oklahoma bombing as the springboard for a national campaign to ban all fertilizer. This would not only improve the nation's soil and water, reduce the ag surplus and hence diminish the cost of federal crop supports, but also boost the small farmers who would spend their days mulching instead of training with the local patriot militia.
After the initial phase of blaming the bomb on the Arabs, it has been open season on "extreme right-wing groups," frequently compared to "extreme left-wing groups" of the late '60s, as if the bombers and baby killers back then were in the Weather Underground and not in the Pentagon.
The rhetoric of Reaganism consisted entirely of attacks on government. When candidate Michael Huffington, in the midst of his abortive Senate race in California, pronounced his political ideal to be "no government" whatsoever, I didn't notice him being disavowed by the Republican National Committee.
Of course, at the operative rather than rhetorical level, most Republican politicians love big government. Newt Gingrich's congressional district ranks third in the country as a recipient of federal dollars.
Most liberals and leftists love big government too. The only people who don't, as a matter of principle, are the anarchists on the left and the folks out on the right now being dumped collectively in the "fanatic" bin.
I've met a lot of people more or less in the McVeigh mold. I lived in a fairly rough motel on California's Central Coast for a couple of years in the late '80s, and they passed through on a frequent basis. One such guy, a construction worker and sometime carpenter whom I'll call S., was a keen reader of Soldier of Fortune. He was also a devout believer of the propositions of the Christic Institute. He saw conspiracies everywhere. Some of them were true, and many weren't. He liked guns. He thought freedom was under siege. He drank a lot.
You couldn't call him left, but you couldn't call him entirely right either. The left certainly had no vision to offer him, and so he prowled through the journals of the paranormal, looking for patterns. Other military types would pass through the motel, and you'd find S. hunkering down with some veteran of the Delta Force, swapping stories about special ops. Their worldview was one of violent cynicism, absolute mistrust of government. The realities of corporate rule didn't interest them much, and they approached economic populism mainly through such concepts as "Bilderberg" or the Council on Foreign Relations or the Bohemian Grove, in which "they" (bankers, the masons or whoever) got together to plan the world's future.
This conspiratorialism is fiercely derided by respectable opinion, but when you get rid of the looniness about Freemasons and the Rothschilds, it's mostly on the money. There is, in emerging outline, a world government composed of the International Monetary Fund and the central banks of the leading industrial nations. National sovereignty is being eroded, most recently by the GATT treaty. Liberties are under threat, as now displayed by Clinton's anti-terrorism package.
Politics in America are so decayed, so rotted out, that the surprise is not that there are patriot militias but that there aren't more of them. Freedom is discussed with vibrancy mostly on the far right, at its best in such enterprises as the Fully Informed Jury Association, reported on a regular basis in the excellent FIJActivist, based in Helmville, Mont. Between the FIJAns and a President Clinton hot to erode constitutional protections and persecute people with brown skins, give me the former every time. They cared what happened to those people at Waco. Most liberals and leftists did not, sandbagging the Davidians with the word "cult" and leaving it at that.
After Waco, the government didn't have too many credentials on the subject of "extremist" violence. Turn back to reports of the biggest bomb attack on a non-military target in the Middle East in the '80s. It went off in a Beirut suburb outside a mosque on March 8, 1985. It killed 80, mostly women and children, and wounded 256.
The target was Sheikh Mohammed Fadallah, who escaped. The instigator was the late William Casey, then head of the CIA. As described by Bob Woodward in his book "Veil," Reagan signed off on the terror bombing, which cost $5 million.
As the nation discovered when McVeigh's face hit the TV screens, you don't need an Arab to tell which way the fuse goes. Uncle Sam has all the know-how.
(Copyright, 1995, Creators Syndicate, Inc.)
Alexander Cockburn's column appears Thursday on editorial pages of The Times.