Friday, August 18, 2006

A Climate of Fear

In a matter of days since the British stopped the airlines plot on August 10th we have witnessed something approaching hysteria in this country and in its news media:

  • A woman on an airliner has a panic attack which results in fighter plane escort and baggage spread out on the runway for inspection by bomb-sniffing dogs. False alarm.

  • The port in Seattle is evacuated and closed for hours due to suspicion of explosives in a container. Which turns out to be another false alarm.

  • Another woman in South Carolina who formerly lived in Pakistan is seen with water bottles and the airport winds up being closed and flights diverted. That one also turns out to be a false alarm.

This is exactly what the Bush-Cheney-Rove crowd wants to see. Precisely and exactly what they need if they are to keep their party in power, and once again they are pounding the drums of fear and “patriotism.”

George Bush says if we leave Iraq “..before the job is completed the terrorists will follow us home.” Cheney is accusing those who voted in disagreement with his wishes as giving aid to terrorists. They’ve done it twice before, and now they are at it again – playing the fear card to stay in power, playing the patriotism card to stifle dissent.

Many are saying it won’t work a third time, but I have some concern that it might. Bush and Company are pounding the fear drum hard, and the American people have listened to that drumbeat twice. One recent poll shows that, incredibly, 55% of the respondents approve of the job Bush is doing against terror.

The best response when confronted with a lie, with the falsehood of a failed policy, is not to argue or confront or rebut or explain, but merely restate the lie. Each time you restate the lie you do so more loudly, and in time that lie becomes believed. That process has been used with success by despots, dictators and demagogues for centuries, and it’s being used by George Bush now. And it’s working – another fairly recent poll showed that 45% believe that weapons of mass destruction were actually found in Iraq. More than 40% believe that Saddam Hussein was closely involved with the attacks of 9/11. I haven’t seen a poll of how many think that Iraq is really part of the larger “War on Terror”, but it is apparent that many people do think that.

At least this time the opposition is speaking out, but will the American people listen? Not if the opposition makes it about Iraq and Bush and Company make it about fear. And they absolutely can and will do that. They are doing that. The opposition is speaking out about Iraq, but that’s the wrong subject.

The American people are angry about the quagmire in Iraq. They are angry about the climate of corruption in Washington. But they are afraid of terrorists, and Bush and Company want to make sure that the fear of terrorists gets bigger and bigger as the mid-term elections draw closer.

If the opposition makes it about “Vote for us, there's a quagmire in Iraq,”
and Bush and Company make it about “If you don’t vote for us there will be a terrorist on every street corner gunning down women and children,”
guess who will win in November.

Bush and Company aren’t going to talk about Iraq, other than to use it as a threat of “the terrorists are coming.” They’re going to talk about fear, fear, and more fear. The opposition, Democrat and reasonable Republican, needs to counter that with talk about reason, restraint and courage. They need to expose the lie.

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