In recent days, we’ve seen a great deal of media focus on episodes (real or imagined) of threats, verbal abuse, vandalism, and violence purportedly coming from opponents of “health care reform.” My guess is that much of this focus on how evil those opponents are marks the beginning of a deliberate political campaign looking toward the 2010 elections.

They did it before, remember – in the 1990s.

As you well know if you are familiar with the history of the Left – or have dared to oppose its agenda publicly – threats, verbal abuse, vandalism, and violence are part of its stock in trade. (Think of the anti-globalization riots, for example.) But similar episodes from the Right are, at least in contemporary America, comparatively rare: When was the last time you saw vandalized property with a conservative message scrawled on it?

So why all the attention to rare episodes? In the 1990s, after Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to take over health care, public opinion swung strongly to the right. The GOP won a majority in the House of the Representatives for the first time in decades. Ratings soared for conservative talk radio. It looked like Clinton might lose his1996 bid for re-election.

Part of the Democratic counterattack was to try to tie mainstream conservatives with extremists such the Oklahoma City bomber and the Montana Freemen. Bill Clinton and others gave speeches on “hate” that tarred innocent people with the guilt of a handful of nuts. As a conservative candidate running in a 1996 Republican primary, I personally had to deal with this tactic.

The tactic was dirty, but it worked. It helped switch public opinion away from conservatives and back to the Left. Otherwise, Bill Clinton may not have won reelection and a Republican President and a conservative Congress might have trimmed the size of the federal government.

So if you want change in the 2010 elections, be very careful. Be confrontational if necessary, but say or do nothing they can possibly construe as threats, abuse, vandalism, or violence. Keep focused on the important issues. And be particularly wary of agents provocateurs and of people eager to divert your energy into illegal, impractical, or time-wasting projects.

Rob Natelson

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