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The Politics of Fear?

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I was listening to some sound bytes from inaugural day protest speeches around the country, and one of the themes which a lot of speakers seemed to be hitting on was that GWB either gets people to support him or got them to reelect him through playing to their fears. Their thesis seems to be that the War on Terror and the war in Iraq are just ways of scaring the American people into supporting his administration and policies they would not support if they weren’t so terribly scared of what would happen to them without his protection.

Apparently these people are listening to a different GWB or at least hearing a different message than I am. Spreading fear is a very negative thing, and as far as I can tell from his public statements, GWB hits a relentlessly positive note in his speeches and in his policy proposals. Rather than running and hiding in fear his approach seems to be to confront enemies directly and show them we are not afraid. You don’t take the war to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq if they scare you. You do that if their actions outrage you and you want to put an end to their monstrous crimes. If the country has problems and you try to fix them that’s not acting out of fear, that’s taking positive initiative to change things for the better.

I know I’m not afraid because GWB is president or because of anything he says. The fact that he has plans and knows what he wants to do and is confident in his initiatives reinforces my feeling of progress and positivism. I’m not worried about a terrorist attack here in my fortified compound in rural Texas, and I’m not any more concerned when I fly to visit relatives in the northeast or walk the streets of a major city. As I see it the terrorists are being kept too busy elsewhere to come over here and cause me any trouble.

So if fearmongering clearly isn’t part of the War on Terror, where is it? Perhaps it’s in Social Security reform. Maybe I’m supposed to be afraid that I might have a chance to get a decent return on at least a small portion of the money the government takes from me every year? Or perhaps the fearmongering is in tax reform? I know, I should quiver in terror at paying less in taxes and being taxed more fairly. But actually it seems like in these areas of policy initiatives GWB is offering us a pretty positive message of reform and forward movement. I guess some people fear change, but when things aren’t working right or when they’re unfair they aren’t going to get fixed without change.

It seems to me that if there’s anyone feeding on fear like some sort of vampire, it’s the extremists in the political opposition. They keep their careers going by feeding their gullible audience on fear of the president and loony conspiracy theories and a relentless message of pessimism and negativity. With no positive agenda to offer all they have left is trying to make people afraid of the programs and policies of the administration and when there’s no reason for fear they’ll make one up, spin fantastic tales of worst case scenarios and tell outright lies. They do whatever it takes to paint the blackest possible picture and bind their supporters to them with unreasoning bonds of paranoia. They tell people that any change means disaster and that those who want to implement change are doing it for evil reasons and must be feared.

They’ve learned that fear works. People who are afraid don’t think. They just look for someone to blame and for someone to save them. Such people are easily led and unthinkingly loyal. Political opportunists need people like that desperately because they’re afraid too. They fear losing power and status and control and as they see it slipping away they feed the fires of fear and make the lies bigger and the boogeymen more horrific. Anything to keep the easily intimidated in thrall, because fear gets them votes and votes keep them in power.

Dave

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About Dave Nalle

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Much of political commentary today – from both sides – has been “filtered through the kidneys first”. Pundits and news readers alike hear everything through the nearly-inpenetrable whine of their own firmly-fixed opinions.

    So what we hear, see and read is pre-massaged by that heterodyne – and with the home frequency unannounced, we have no way to remove the noise from the signal.

  • Eric Olsen

    very well put and I agree with much of it; co-opting the language against which you tilt is both clever and holistic in the diabolical and subversive manner I have come to appreciate

  • Eric Olsen

    your pic isn’t coming through, by the way

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Politics always uses fear. Isn’t it the most effective tool?

    Those on the extreme political left use analogies of Bush=Hitler to invoke fear.

    Those on the extreme right use concepts like ‘defending marriage’, or the concept that your right to worship is under attack if you can’t also use a school microphone or your faith is under direct attack if you can’t put a plaque on a courthouse wall.

    Personally, I believe the color coded warning system, as well as the sudden appearance of a healthy Osama on video one week before the election were/are tools designed to gain a political advantage by invoking fear. When Cheney said during the campaign that voters will either make a right choice or a wrong choice for America on election day, that was certainly designed to cater to fear.

    Both sides use fear (IMHO), it’s the end result that is so dramatically different. The intellectuals on the left (professors, scientific community, etc.) don’t respond to fear. But your rural Bible thumper in the midwest sure does.

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    Fear drove this election like no other in my living memory. I don’t think that’s debatable at all.

    What is in question is whether that fear is a good or a bad thing. Should we fear attack constantly and do something about it – like go on the attack ourselves – just on the off-chance something might happen?

    That’s the debate. Though Iraq was not mentioned once in yesterday’s inaugural speech, call me crazy, I still think it’s important to give more than lip service to honor service (of all kinds).

    Me, I don’t like to spend every quaking moment in fear. There are other liberties that need to be protected – those that come day to day; those that are exercised every single day by 280 million Americans. Those are more important to me as they effect my life daily.

    I don’t think that’s a left or right decision. I think it’s a very practical one.

    Freedom of speech is paramount; freedom to be left alone is another.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>What is in question is whether that fear is a good or a bad thing. Should we fear attack constantly and do something about it – like go on the attack ourselves – just on the off-chance something might happen?< <

    We should accept danger as an element of life and do what's needed to minimize that danger. That's not necessarily a policy born out of fear.

    >>That’s the debate. Though Iraq was not mentioned once in yesterday’s inaugural speech, call me crazy, I still think it’s important to give more than lip service to honor service (of all kinds).< <

    Actually, the president did make a brief comment towards the end of his speech praising the soldiers for their service

    >>Me, I don’t like to spend every quaking moment in fear. There are other liberties that need to be protected – those that come day to day; those that are exercised every single day by 280 million Americans. Those are more important to me as they effect my life daily.

    I don’t think that’s a left or right decision. I think it’s a very practical one.

    Freedom of speech is paramount; freedom to be left alone is another.<<

    Can’t argue with you there. The problem is that while you or I might be wiling to fight for those freedoms there are an awful lot of people who are willing to give them up for a sense of security, and those folks seem to be the main constituency far too many politicians are playing to.

    Dave

  • Shark

    “…the terrorists are being kept too busy elsewhere to come over here and cause me any trouble.”

    Shark glances at watch and wonders how long until Dave eats these words…

  • Shark

    For the last decade or two, the biggest “fears” of the GOP were the national DEFICIT.

    Jeez, not much on that subject these days, is there…?

    How quickly their “fears” change.

    Or at least the ‘marketing.’

    PS: My greatest fear: being old and poor in America.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>For the last decade or two, the biggest “fears” of the GOP were the national DEFICIT.

    Jeez, not much on that subject these days, is there…?< <

    Well, not if you completely ignore the endless ranting about it in liberal news outlets and on the web.

    >>PS: My greatest fear: being old and poor in America.<<

    My greatest fear is that my children will enjoy even fewer of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution than we do today.

    Dave

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    dave – fix the picture link will ya?

    Please.

    I never even saw what was supposed to be there.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    The picture link appears to be working fine. I checked it in the editor and the link is correct as far as I can tell and it loads the picture for me every time.

    If you can’t see it here try looking on my blog at http://www.diablog.us

    Dave

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I’ve viewed this page in IE and Firefox. In Firefox, I don’t even see a broken image link — I couldn’t figure out what people were talking about.

    Then I opened it in IE and got the broken image X box thingie.

    Weird.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Okay, now I see it in Firefox!

    Kinda icky and Steven Tyler-esque.