FIFTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY…. With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing today, it’s worth remembering the horrific tragedy, the hate that inspired it, and the 168 victims of the extremists’ terrorism. It was, at the time, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism on U.S. soil ever.

It’s also worth taking a moment to acknowledge the cultural context, and the legitimate concerns that contemporary right-wing hysteria could create an environment that leads violent American radicals to commit another heinous act. Kathleen Parker’s latest column asks, “Is the political environment becoming so toxic that we could see another Timothy McVeigh emerge? No one knows the answer, but fears that anger could escalate into action beyond the ballot box are not misplaced.”

For those of us who follow American politics closely, the developments are common enough to become dizzying. The death threats against Democratic lawmakers. The “reload” and “revolution” rhetoric from unhinged Republican leaders. The constant and overheated attacks on the legitimacy of the Obama presidency and the federal government. The talk of secession and militias from prominent far-right voices.

Parker notes that “the unthinkable becomes plausible” under such toxic circumstances.

The challenge for all, but especially the media, is to find a balance between vigilance and restraint. How do we expose the unhinged without emboldening them with attention? Inevitably, the lone operator hears his own name summoned from the crowd.

The only palatable answer is what conservatives say they love best: self-control and personal responsibility. When someone spews obscenities, shout them down. When politicians and pundits use inflammatory language, condemn them.

When you choose to remain silent, consider yourself complicit in whatever transpires.

In some ways, the silence troubles me nearly as much as the extremism itself. I want desperately to hear Republican Party officials and leaders make clear that they find overheated madness to be offensive and wrong.

But they don’t, because they can’t — Republicans are counting on rage to win elections and fill their campaign coffers. So the party makes Palin a hero, it puts Bachmann in front of the cameras, it sweeps Steve King’s sympathies towards domestic terrorism under the rug, it tolerates GOP leaders equating the party with the Taliban, and it decides it can try to lower the temperature at some later date, perhaps after the midterms.

Here’s hoping that’s not too late.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.