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Nothing to Fear But Fear Mongering Itself

June 15, 2008

Some fair-and-balanced criticism/advice I can get behind:

My unsolicited advice to this year’s election candidates: Do not base your campaigns in the rhetoric of fear. Both sides. Use reason, not fear. Avoid advocating absolute executive power based on the fear of terrorism and avoid advocating executive impotence on the basis of alleged civil rights. Avoid using fear of gas prices to propose market interventions and statism. Just provide sound, convincing substantive policies.

This is where Barack Obama has halfway tapped into something this country needs. If his “hope and change” rhetoric falls short of providing “sound, convincing substantive policies”, at least he’s got it part right. McCain on the other hand, runs the risk of doing the reverse: despite his policies in Iraq being absolutely vindicated by current events, he does run the risk of sounding like a fear monger. Certainly it is a lot easier to portray him that way- as it is easy to portray Obama as shallow and inexperienced.

Like most of his commenters, I don’t Hewitt’s guest blogger Donald Kochan’s advice being taken to heart. Obama, if nothing else, has proven himself a master manipulator of emotions, and that kung-fu is extremely hard to take down. Our country is in a fit of anxiety over the events of the last 7 years and is looking for someone to say it’s all going to be fine. Meanwhile, very real and dire existential threats face our country no matter who takes office, and talking about them is just going to be a real bummer. There’s an idea out there that the war in Iraq, and the wider war against terrorism is simply Bush’s war- or the Republican’s war, or the neo-cons war- and that by voting them out it will somehow end. We’ll just get the troops out, the news stories will stop and we’ll be able to get on with our lives. What’s more, Democratic primary voters have decided that going back to the Clinton era was not good enough. It’s time for some thing new and different. You’re not afraid of the unknown are you?

Here’s the bad news: the bad people will not go away. Not if we put away all our nukes. Not if we let Israel get wiped of the map. No amount of apologies, no amount of cash bribes, no UN resolution can change that reality.

The candidate most qualified to talk about and deal with this reality in my mind is unquestionably John McCain. Yet I know the more he talks about these issues- which are real and as immanent as an oncoming train with your 5 year old tied to the tracks- the more he can be labeled as a fear-monger. After all Bush lied right? We haven’t been attacked because terrorists are just a bunch of loser rag heads with no ability to really harm us right? You’re not for killing people right? Don’t you want to stop spending money on killing people and start saving lives in our own country? Let’s buy a little lunch meat for those mustard and relish sandwiches.

As I wrote in Obama’s Non-Nuclear World “The problem with ideas like the one Obama is proposing is not that they are obviously wrong but they sound so appealing.” John McCain’s insistence in standing up to terror, and in ridiculing the idea of meeting with Iran’s leaders without precondition has the opposite problem: for many he is obviously wrong and it sounds unappealing to boot.

If the Iran issue seems to politicized to you– and well it may- try the post I referred to that parses Obama’s proposal to have the US take the lead towards establishing a non-nuclear world. Not only does Obama’s proposal essentially mean nothing in practical terms, it could actually lead to a world that is more dangerous, not less so. But it sure sounds good- and it couldn’t be construed as fear-mongering.

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