Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fear as a Political Tool

The Republican National Committee, it seems, thinks that it needs to produce fear in order to harvest political power.

Think of it in terms of a political machine. This machine produces votes. By increasing the output of the machine, those who own the machine capture more political power.

Like all machines, this one takes input. It takes time and labor and cash to produce and show television commercials.

The Republican National Committee political machine needs fear as one of its inputs. That is how it produces votes. In order to harvest as much fear as possible, it invests a fair amount of effort into growing and nurturing a climate of fear. It wants every one of us to be afraid. The better job they do of leaving us quivering in our boots, the more political power it hopes to get.

The most recent example of this is a Republican advertisement that takes quotes from terrorist leaders announcing their intention to destroy America and to kill Americans, and displays them in at atmosphere that move producers have long known to be effective at producing fear.

In a recent 'special comment', Keith Obermann pointed out that these terrorist leaders created these comments in order to generate fear. However, they lacked the funds necessary to broadcast their message very far. To their benefit, the Republican National Committee has taken action to give the terror message of these religious fundamentalists a far larger audience than they would have otherwise gotten.

Why are the terrorists making these types of claims, blowing things up, and killing people? They do these things because they want to achieve a political objective, and they believe that these tactics are the best way to obtain that objective. They want to sew fear because they believe that fear will change the way that others behave - and that they will come to behave in ways that are politically useful to those who caused the fear. They are, in short, manipulating others through fear.

Why is the Republican National Committee distributing this commercial? They do this because they want to achieve a political objective, and they believe that these tactics are the best way to obtain that objective. They want to sew fear because they believe that fear will change the way that others behave - and that they will come to behave in ways that are politically useful to those who caused the fear. They are, in short, manipulating others through fear.

There is an important issue here that Olbermann touched on, but which I think needs to be made more explicit. That is to say, there is nothing wrong with causing others to experience a rational fear over some event. This is easiest to see in instances where parents cause children to be afraid. Children should be taught to fear the consequences of smoking, overeating, drunkenness, and playing with electrical outlets, drinking things without knowing what they are, and pointing a gun at somebody even if one is certain that it is not loaded.

I am not talking about creating such terror in the hearts and minds of children that they cannot leave their rooms. We need enough courage to walk out our doors and accept the risks that are an innate part of the natural world. I am not talking about the type of fear of disease that keeps people locked in their sanitized rooms throughout their lives or keeps them from flying or riding an elevator. I am talking about a healthy aversion to the consequences of particular actions that will keep people from otherwise doing things that they would regret.

This type of fear springs from an honest and rational assessment of the risks.

So, the Republican National Committee might be able to defend itself by saying that they are giving us an honest, rational assessment of the risk.

Only, they are not being honest, and they are not playing on our sense of reason. Anybody who sees the commercial will find it quite obvious that its intent is not to appeal to our sense of reason but to generate an emotion. Furthermore, it is far from honest. It asserts that Democrats do not care if they or others become the victims of a bomb or other type of weapon, and are not willing to take steps to prevent it.

One example that I have discussed before concerns opposition to Bush's wiretap program. The Republicans tell us that Democrats oppose listening in on Al-Quida phone calls.

This, of course, is a lie.

I dislike speaking for others, but I will offer the sense that the opposition to the wiretaps is based more on the question, "How do we know that the Bush Administration is only wiretapping the terrorists. Without judicial oversight, they could be listening in on anybody. They could be listening in on Democratic Party phone calls to discover strategy, or listening in on political interests groups opposed to Presidential powers. They could be using this power to buy campaign contributions or to intimidate political opponents into silence. Just to make sure, let's have a judge looking over their shoulder to make sure that the Administration is actually listening in on Al Queida."

This is an important distinction. The problem is not that the Republican National Committee is telling us that there are things to be afraid of, or that they have a better way of protecting us from a particular danger than the Democrats. The problem is that the Republicans are lying. What they say about those who oppose their policies is, in a huge majority of the cases, quite simply false.

If they would have told the truth, then they would have been able to defend their actins as an attempt to promote a healthy and rational fear of some danger that exists. However, the danger they warn us about is a lie. This means that they are not truly concerned with helping us to make rational decisins about our safety. They goal - the real reason behind their actions - is to create a country of citizens who are filled with an irrational fear.

If the Republican National Committee had not lied, then it would have been much more difficult to make this charge.

The fact that the Republican Party is lying is proof enough that their goal is not a rational respect for the risks that Al-Queida provides. They cannot promote a rational respect of anything through deception. If they are deceiving us, then there interest must be in promoting something other than rational respect - namely, irrational fear.

They are trying to use of fear to manipulate others to obtain a political objective of grasping power for themselves.

These are not the types of goals that we would hope to find in people of good moral character.

These are the types of goals we expect to find in people who value power over virtue.

For six years, we have been governed by an administration that scoffs at reason and has tried to run the nation on faith. In doing so, it has made one gross mistake after another. Faith will not keep us safe. Instead, what we need are rational and intelligent people who can look at the evidence and use it to develop rational plans for dealing with the problems that face us.

Reason . . . rationality . . . these are things that the Bush Administration and the Republican National Committee treat with contempt. They prefer to primal, unreasoned, and irrational fear.

It is no wonder they have such a history of failure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hummmm- Fear is not an option - Only Dreams and Deslusions of saving the world making it a better place and loveing everyone and everything - Hope is the motivator -Freedom is the Goal - Fear is the enemy