Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fear Factor

FDR famously said "We have nothing to fear except fear itself".

The latest opinion polls indicate that the Republican administration’s consistent and shameless exploitation of the threat of terrorism to maintain their grip on power and the public isn’t working as well as it used to; the approval numbers for Bush, the Congress as a whole, Republicans in particular and the administration’s policies and management have been stuck in the toilet for months with quite a few specific issue ratings trending even lower.

All this is of course music to the Democrats and their supporters who have been variously accused of being wrong, treasonous and crazy for finding fault with the Republican agenda and actions. And now, finally complaints are being voiced not just from the Left but from the Right as well.

The radical Christian Right which has so heavily and deeply invested in the Republican administration feels it has been used as its attempts to ban “gay marriage”, overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn religion into an essential component of social and political life have withered on the vine. Fiscal conservatives have witnessed a massive increase in the national debt and massive waste in government spending. Libertarians have seen a growth in the size of government and the erosion of personal freedoms, and collectively they have all come to realize that the occupation of Iraq and its management has not delivered the promised dividends. Now with explicit dissatisfaction from many quarters, the “political capital” and the “mandate” that George Bush and the Republicans claimed to have acquired in 2004 appears to be spent.

With so little to show their traditional supporters, let alone their traditional opponents and the remaining 50% of eligible voters who traditionally don’t vote and thus don’t count, the incumbent Republicans are faced with a serious dilemma: do they change course and abandon the strategy and rhetoric that has served their own ambitions and egos so well, so far, or do they respond to the mood and express concerns contained in the public opinion polls as November approaches? Do they adapt or do they die? (As this is the basic tenet of the Origin of Species which the Republicans have been so vociferous in denouncing, it’s a very thorny question indeed).

Having spent the last six years betraying the public’s trust (and even that of all but a select few of many special interests) the majority of incumbent Republican Senators and Congressional Representatives now realize that the Barbarians are at the gate, the wolf is at the door and someone is about to move the cheese.

The defining characteristics of the current GOP and this administration have been polarization and fear.
In defining every issue as black and white, right and wrong, “us versus them” and then having had their assessments proved wrong and the results contrary to their promises, the Republicans now face being judged by the very same polar standards they have so readily applied to everyone else.

That they survived this long is a testament to their manipulation of fear, claiming that the questioning of policies would make America look “weak” and abet the terrorists; or that requests for information in order for Congress to make informed decisions on the public’s behalf would reveal secrets that would encourage the terrorists to strike; or equating the thwarting of some nebulous, impractical plot as justification for the administrations governance of any public issue, no matter how unrelated.

Now it seems the majority of Americans are shaking-off their former Pavlovian programming—they have other, more important fears which they, not the administration, are choosing to define.

It is the incumbent Republicans who now have something to fear. Not only do they risk losing their pensioned jobs, inflated status and extraordinary benefits they also risk losing the personal and collective power that has served them so well. But more than that, they risk being held to account for criminal acts—bribery, theft, lying under oath, endangering the public, perverting justice and so on. With the prospect of not just public approbation but actual criminal indictment in their future (should the Democrats regain some power) fear--and not their sworn responsibility to the public and the Constitution--will be the primary motivator of their actions in the near future.

I maybe wrong, but it’s my impression that the crazy rhetoricometer is already close to bouncing against the peg. As amusing as it is to watch politicians squirm and scramble, remember what’s at stake here for the politicians and for the voting public.
All the polls over the last six months reflect a desire for change from all quarters and both sides. With those polled no longer influenced by “terror alerts” and if Bush and the Republicans “stay the course” a discrepancy between public attitudes and election results will be a clear indicator of blatant manipulation of the electoral process and its mechanisms.
There is still only one, ONE, issue where Republicans as a whole maintain a perceived advantage—fighting terrorism. Why? I have no idea. But given that the polls indicate that the prospect of terrorism now ranks near the bottom of the list of major public concerns (and has done for months) and that “terror alerts” have ceased to be a motivating factor for the public, if the Democrat party doesn’t gain a majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate this November, then our own democracy will have surely been usurped.

Ironically I’m playing the “fear card” myself here. But it is this administration that has made fear an essential factor of politics and policy, and fear now drives those who have exploited it
Fear is a powerful motivator. For myself, I fear what actions fear will drive our fearful politicians to take. I also fear what fear will allow the electorate to accept. The question this November is really about what do we fear the most?