Once Upon a Time….

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.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

“Democrats “have a pre-9/11 worldview” of national security that is “deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong”

In my experience, the democrats had a very different attitude to national security. It was their policy to save on bug spray by kicking as few ants nests as they could manage.

Wouldn’t it be more productive if America concentrated on NOT MAKING ENEMIES rather than fighting each enemy as it makes them like it is doing right now.

Take a look at the countries that don’t have a terrorism problem, and you will find that most of them are countries that don’t have a combative foreign policy.

Look at China, it has domestic freedom fighters in Xinjiang, but there are no foreign terrorists lining up to kill Chinese citizens. The same goes for Japan. It’s a rich democracy, but you don’t see all that many so-called ‘jelious democracy hating’ muslims heading over to bomb the Tokyo tower, do you?

When will America learn that its own actions have a huge impact on its security situation, and that if it is respectful to other peoples, it will be far more secure?

January 27, 2006 @ 7:19 am | Comment

Intertesting points, ACB, and I can’t disagree. The concept of “taking the battle to the enemy” was misguided and harebrained from the start. We had to take it to Afghanistan and I supported it fully. But the idea of a “global war on terror,” noble as it sounds in principle, is a pipe dream, especiually if you handle it in an amateurish way, making yourself seem almost as bad as the terrorists, a very real situation we are now experiencing in Pakistan.

January 27, 2006 @ 7:25 am | Comment

Although I do have a thing to add. When you are at the top, you become a target. The US, simply by having an active (not necessarily combattive) foreign policy, would not naturally be a target. BTW, the China example you cited, ACB, is a poor one. China is a developing country. This being the case, it can be perceived as victimized rather than the victimizer (rightfully so in many senses). Japan is a good example. Japan is also not a good example. It is barred from military activity abroad (in most cases, not all, as Iraq has shown) by its own constitution from foreign military involvement. I am not disagreeing totally with what you say, but I think that the US would not be spared simply by being less combattive. It would certainly minimize problems, but it would not eliminate them by far.

January 27, 2006 @ 8:53 am | Comment

ACB, In line with your original point I recall early on that one of the Al-Qaeda leaders issued a statement to the effect of “If it were democracy, freedom and a decadent lifestyle that we are out to destroy, we would have targeted the Netherlands.”

January 27, 2006 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

You may want to go to http://www.foreignpolicy.com and read M. Mandlebaum’s take on America and the world.
And I wouldn’t be so sanguine about the future of

January 27, 2006 @ 2:12 pm | Comment

Sorry, hit the wrong key.
I wouldn’t be so sanguine about the future of China as it has its own problems with its Muslim population and still may incur the wrath of some radicals/freedom fighters.

January 27, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

As for Japan, I think it’s only a matter of time… There have been more then one threats warned, and suspected terrorists have been apprehended attempting to enter the country. It hurts to say it, but it seems that Japan’s racist immigration policy that I too love to hate, could be what’s keeping itself safe… for now. They are also taking other measures such as having guards scattered throughout the major train stations both walking on foot patrolling, and also standing on platforms as to see over the whole crowd. You’ll also have a hell of a time finding a garbage can.

January 28, 2006 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

In the 30s Hitler told his people that the Jews were filth coniving vultures who wanted ot destroy their way of life.

Today, G W is doing the same thing with Muslims.

February 2, 2006 @ 5:38 am | Comment

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