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President Clinton was correct in railing Monday against the surge of hatred and venom that seems to be spreading like a cancer over airwaves and Internet bulletin boards.

By all accounts, the Oklahoma City bombing was an outgrowth of such rhetoric. Although extremist hate groups, militias and others deny involvement in this horrible crime, their anti-government diatribes surely contributed to a frenzied atmosphere that allowed some to rationalize violent acts.Left unchecked, such anger could threaten to destroy the nation's government and way of life.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric and paranoia haven't been tempered by the scenes of destruction and the broken bodies of children. Across the worldwide computer system known as the Internet, people have posted messages in recent days defending the bombing because it may have killed federal agents responsible for the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, two years ago.

Demonstrating that paranoia and conspiracy theories know no bounds, some even claim the bombing was plotted by federal agents in an effort to discredit the militia movement.

Of course, such theories are utter nonsense. But anger at the president, the burgeoning federal bureaucracy or at any of a number of government acts have created audiences in many quarters that are receptive to the irrational.

The founders of this nation were wise to create a system that allows for checks on government power and that gives all citizens equal representation. People angry at government have avenues through which to effect change. Last November's election was a dramatic example of the power of the electorate. The system, not violence, should be the vehicle for correcting problems.

The founders also were wise to allow the freedom of speech, giving vent both to correct and incorrect ideas. The most effective way to counter error is with truth.

To that end, the president should be applauded for asking that responsible citizens rise up and speak against the hatred and paranoia. The dead and wounded in Oklahoma City deserve no less.