A sad story of the Age of Fear.
Once upon a time we had a great wartime president who told Americans they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Now we have George W. Bush, who uses fear as a tool of executive power and as a political weapon against his opponents.
Franklin D. Roosevelt tried his best to allay his nation’s fears in the midst of an epic struggle against fascism. Bush, as he leads the country in a war whose nature he is constantly redefining, keeps fear alive because it has been so useful. His political grand vizier, Karl Rove, was perfectly transparent the other day when he emerged from wherever he’s been hiding the past few months — consulting omens, reading entrails — and gave the Republican National Committee its positioning statement for the fall elections: Vote for us or die.
Democrats “have a pre-9/11 worldview” of national security that is “deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong,” Rove said. The clear subtext was that Americans would court mortal danger by electing Democrats. Go forth and scare the bejesus out of them, Rove was telling his party, because the more frightened they are, the better our chances….
The thing is, fear works. The administration successfully invoked the fear of “mushroom clouds” to win support, or at least acquiescence, for the invasion of Iraq. By the time it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, the fear of losing to terrorists on the “central front” had been given primacy. We stopped hearing the name bin Laden so often — no need to bring attention to the fact that he remained at large — until reports emerged of secret CIA prisons, torture and domestic spying.
Bin Laden does remain a threat. He would hit the United States again if he could. We do expect the president to protect us. But a great wartime leader rallies his citizens by informing them and inspiring them. He certainly doesn’t use threats to our national security for political gain. He doesn’t just point at a map and say “Boo.”
But it’s working, so don’t expect any changes. It’s how they won the 2004 election, and it’s the only hope they have of holding onto their power. They certainly don’t want anyone looking at their actual track record. So just focus on the T word and do all you can to keep people afraid, very, very afraid.