Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Politics of Fear

News today that Tom Ridge has a new book out in which he describes how the Bush inner circle was pressuring him to issue a terror alert on the eve of the 2004 election, so as to help Bush's re-election chances. This brings to mind a sorry 40-year history of Republican dirty tricks and pandering to the politics of fear.

In 1968 we saw Richard Nixon run on a "law and order" platform, a thinly-disguised appeal to our racist impulses and a part of his infamous "Southern strategy". Hubert Humphrey ran a fairly energetic campaign, but he refused to split ranks with LBJ, when he should have met the war issue head-on and said that "yes, I was part of the Johnson administration. I remained loyal, as any person in a subordinate role has to be. But now, I seek to be President in my own right, and my policies will be consistent with my whole life, which has been as an advocate of liberal policies. I will end the Vietnam War and concentrate on our problems here at home." The result of Humphrey's failed campaign is that Nixon won the election, despite third-party candidate George Wallace winning five states that Nixon otherwise would have won.

Nothing McGovern could have done in 1972 would have helped him, which makes the Watergate dirty tricks effort so inexplicable. In 1976 Ford was more of a "politics of hope" candidate than a "politics of fear" one, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise sordid Republican world. '80 and '84 are similarly irrelevant to this discussion.

Now fast forward to 1988, one of the most despicable examples of Republican politics of fear. This was the year George H.W. Bush ran a campaign based on the picture of a Black man, Willie Horton, who had committed a crime while on a furlough program, on the lie that Dukakis didn't like the Pledge of Allegiance, and an allegation that he was a "card-carrying member of the ACLU". One of the shallowest campaigns in memory. At the heart of all this was Bush's allegation that Dukakis was a "liberal", as if that was a dirty word. Dukakis should have replied strongly that "yes, of course I am a liberal. It is liberalism that has given us social security, Medicare, minimum wage laws, worker safety laws, and every other step forward toward a more humane society in the history of this great county. I am proud to say I am a liberal, and I ask for your vote on that basis." Instead, Dukakis said nothing, until days before the election when the headline roared "Dukakis admits he is a liberal after all".

Clinton learned the lesson and in 1992 he met the Republican lies head-on within hours or even minutes that every Republican lie hit the airwaves.

Gore of course turned his back on Clinton in 2000, showed his lack of character with his horrible statement about the Elian Gonzalez situation in Florida, and ended up losing. Gore said later if he had to do it over again he would have "let it all hang out", meaning simply he would have spoken his mind and not let his handlers muzzle him. In 2004 Kerry got "swiftboated" in another depressing example of Republican dirty tricks, and he was unable to counteract this.

Now we have not an election, but a Democratic administration which again seems overcome with timidity instead of counterattacking the Republican lies over health care (death panels, killing grandma, etc.). Have we learned nothing from history?? True to their DNA. the Republicans are engaged in a despicable campaign of lies and misinformation designed to deceive the American people and kill health care. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Rewind now to 1920, when Woodrow Wilson was touring the country trying to sell his League of Nations concept. The Republicans followed him around the country with a so-called "Truth Squad", to counteract what they thought was Wilson's misinformation. The point here isn't who was right or wrong, but that the Republicans in 1920 recognized that misinformation has to be countered strongly and immediately. Wilson ended up dead from exhaustsion, and the U.S. Senate kept us out of the League of Nations.

It is said that lie told often enough will be believed. The lesson here is that the more accurate saying is that an *unrefuted* lie told often enough will be believed. The Democrats, unfortunately, have yet to learn this lesson.

No comments: