Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Fear Machine Revvs Up

The Republicans are building up to a thunderstorm of criticism of the Democrats, and particularly Barak Obama, on the question of terrorism and security. For example, today's Washington Post carried the following lead:

TYLER, Tex., Feb. 27 -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) of making ill-informed comments about Iraq and al-Qaeda in Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate, signaling that a general-election brawl between the colleagues would center in part on who has the foreign policy experience to lead a country at war.
The NY Times article about Colonel Davis, the former chief bulldog colonel for the military trials against Guantanamo detainees who has turned detainee supporter, quotes him stating the obvious: top Pentagon brass discussed timing the upcoming trials to match the run up to the 2008 election. Duh. How many salvos of fireworks can they keep coming? Building up to a crescendo in September, with the cooked "evidence" of these dangerous terrorists (who have been held in stinking hell holes in Guantanamo for the last 6 years and must look withered and wizened by now). Another round of fireworks in the hellish bouquet of attacks and fear-mongering being hatched by the Republicans.

The Republicans will run on two themes: security and taxes. On security, not war but security, who can better protect the nation? A McCain who knows the guts of war, who supported and supports the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing war or Obama, who was against the war?

Obama has to posit a totally different mythology of America in the post Cold War, flat earth reality: it has to be rooted in a view of the world that says that the war should not have happened, the it has inflamed rather than doused anti-American sentiment around the world, that it has cost way too many lives and will have mired us in an intractable position in the Middle East for decades to come. And that it is ruining not only our standing among nations but brand "America" and our capacity to export our brain products (no matter how low the dollar sinks). A vision that says that we not only should not have gone to war and brought down Saddam Hussein, but we now have to reverse the outcome, make it all better? Make it so the middle easterners like and respect us (but allow us to continue full support of Israel). Make it so that militant Muslim terrorism calms down to a whisper? A policy that makes it safe to be an American abroad again. That vision is going to not only have to be compelling, it has to SELL and counter act the fearful and fearsome vision the Republicans paint.

That is a tall order, when we are a nation that feeds off the notion of our superpower strength, our righteousness, and are more than willing to defer to the one who pounds the drum the loudest. Bush still dominates the debate. (Is the Democratic Congress impotent or what?) He will have to defend the war all the way to election day. It's his war. And he intends to assure his legacy.

Taxes on the other hand is easier to reframe and change the subject from "it's your money; they will take it away and spend it on bloated boondoggles" to the Democratic fear machine: "health care is a disaster, education is a disaster, the infrastructure is a disaster, we have allowed the richest 1 percent to siphon off all of the wealth of the nation that could go to reducing infant mortality, increasing literacy rates, improving inspection of slaughterhouses to assure humane animal treatment and healthy meat, etc., etc."

How can it be that the richest nation in the history of the world can't afford to pay school teachers? or care for the disabled and the elderly?

My Democratic friends think Obama can bring in enough new voters who aren't going to respond to the Republican fear machine and who will support the Democratic fear concerto to win the election.

I am worried. Fear is a poison and a stimulant. At least the Democrats can point to actual visible problems and actual, acceptable, visible solutions. So the fear can be alleviated. The Republican fear seeps into the country's bones. It aims at the lowest common denominator. It uses bogeymen to scare us. We are a nation addicted to fear and to the aggressive response. All adrenalin all the time. The Swift boating of Kerry may look like amateur hour compared to what will be mounted against Obama.

PS: I am sad about Hillary. She would have made a much better president in terms of dealing with problems. Whether she could lead is another question. She has the chops on the war issue that Obama doesn't. Hillary is a realist. Iraq IS. We have to deal with it. "I was against the war from the start" means Obama has to create a whole new vision that gets us out of the very dangerous quagmire the Republicans have put us into (along with Democratic complicity).

PPS: The issue isn't who is right but who can paint the most compelling vision of how to deal with the world as it is (while painting the picture of what that world IS to suit the proposed remedies). The Republicans will paint a dangerous world that only more aggression can make safe. The Democrats have to paint a vision of a world with different premises and different outcomes. The US has seldom opted for the kinder gentler vision.