It was one thing when he was a rich guy from Louisville little known outside Tea Party circles. But now that Matt Bevin is governor of Kentucky, he really should think before he speaks, maybe even jot down a few notes before taking the stage.
Bevin’s attempted clarification on Monday of comments that he made at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Saturday suggests that he knows that he was off base, irresponsible and verging on unhinged when he declared that bloodshed may be necessary to “redeem” the country if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
On Monday, Bevin insisted that he was referring to support for the military overseas and the threat of Islamist extremists and that “any intelligent person” who listens to his full speech would understand his real message.
Those of us in Kentucky who are familiar with Bevin’s off-the-cuff oratory know that he is given to flights of grandiloquent incoherence. But, though he spoke of the military earlier in his speech, neither the military nor ISIS were what he was talking about when he said he believes the country could recover from a Clinton victory “but at what price?”
“At what price?” Bevin repeated. “The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood, of who? The tyrants to be sure, but who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we through our apathy and indifference have given away.”
Bevin was invoking the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote in 1787 that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Timothy McVeigh wore a T-shirt bearing the quote when he was arrested after blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1998, killing 168 people. It became a favorite with the Tea Party movement after Barack Obama’s election.
Bevin repeated the bloodshed theme in an interview with Lifezette, an online publication edited by Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham. “If not me then perhaps my children will be the one ... to shed their blood to recover something that we threw away. ... If we allow the candle of liberty to go out on our watch, shame on us.”
What has kept liberty alive in this country for more than 200 years is the peaceful transfer of power after elections. The idea that violence would be justified by the election of a candidate or platform you disagree with is un-American.
And the idea that the conservative Christians who Bevin was exhorting should use government’s power, much less bloodshed, to impose their religious values on others mirrors the beliefs of Islamist extremists not the philosophy of Jefferson and our founders.
Bevin confided that he was speaking extemporaneously. “I don’t tend to overthink things too much.” Kentuckians hope he will just stop underthinking things so much.