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July 14, 2003

Fearing Fear Itself

Are you more afraid now than you were in 2000?

The Democratic presidential candidates finally start attacking Bush's credibility for lying to get us into war. Apparently Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and Gephardt—who both all to give Bush permission to attack Iraq—have finally found a way out of the dilemma they've been in as that pro-war stance made them increasingly unpopular with Democratic voters; now they can just say that the reason they supported the war is that they believed Bush, but now that they know he lied, they can vehemently condemn both Bush and the war. Lucky for them. Will this reduce Dean's lead? As the most "mainstream" candidate who has opposed the Iraq war all along (although he says the invasion of Afghanistan was the right thing to do), Dean was able to distinguish himself on this issue, but that distinction may now become less clear.)

This comes at a time when I'm just baffled that more people aren't just irate about this issue. Why do the same people who got upset that Clinton lied about a blow job (which hurt no one directly besides Clinton, Lewinsky, and Clinton's family) seem so unconcerned about Bush's lies, which have effectively killed thousands of people? Some analysts seem to think the answer is fairly simple: Americans are just scared silly. In fact, it seems we've been whipped into such a frenzy of fear that we'll accept just about anything. For example, in "Trading On Fear", PR analysts Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber look at how Yubbledew and Co. (the Bush administration and corporate America) have stoked the fears of the average American and then profited from those fears. And in "A Nation of Scared Sheep" Louise Witt looks more closely at the fears driving Americans to give Yubbledew and Co. a pass on the lies it told to get support for an invasion of Iraq. Very simply put, it seems we are being manipulated, and apparently it's working.

First Rampton and Stauber explain how television propaganda was used to sell the Iraq war to the American public, but they also debunk the idea that the crap we see on television is just the networks and studios "giving the people what they want":

Fear is one of the most primitive emotions in the human psyche, and it definitely keeps us watching. If the mere ability to keep people watching were really synonymous with "giving audiences what they want", we would have to conclude that people "want" terrorism. On September 11, Osama bin Laden kept the entire world watching. As much as people hated what they were seeing, the power of their emotions kept them from turning away.

Fear is an awesome force. Its power is obvious since even though we can all say intellectually that fear was what caused the Red Scare or the Salem Witch trials or whatever, we still can't seem to help ourselves when someone tells us to be afraid and to do stupid things because of our fear. It was 1933 when Ike said:

first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Ike may have overstated the case a bit—surely there are some things we should fear besides fear itself—but we really don't have much room for such quibbling at the moment. Yubbledew and Co. are still on the loose trying to salvage and extend their "scare and plunder" methods of governance. Currently they're trying to squirm out of the mess they're in by blaming George Tenent and by asserting that they didn't, technically, lie. "We got the info from Britain, and Britain did put that info in a report, which is all we said. We didn't say it was true, we just said it was a claim made by British intelligence." So why does that make it any better?

I'm sure tomorrow will bring new developments. Meanwhile, the good news is that the most recent polls show that the Yubbledew teflon is cracking. Happy Monday!

Posted July 14, 2003 09:25 AM | election 2004 general politics

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