Thursday, May 07, 2009

on using fear as a political tool

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the following might be misunderstood as an argument that Obama is using fear as a political tool. That was not my intention. I was just pointing out that if anyone claims to have been convinced by objective evidence that Bush was using fear as a political tool then they should be equally convinced that Obama is doing so.

Does anyone else remember how Bush was repeatedly accused of using fear as a political weapon? Does anyone wonder what the usual suspects on the Left would have said if someone in the Bush administration had flown a 747 around the New York skyline, causing people to evacuate buildings in a panic? And if the Bush Whitehouse claimed that the flights were for publicity photos of the plane, but then refused to give anyone the pictures, don't you think some of these "true patriots" on the left would have demonstrated their patriotism-by-dissent and claimed that there never were any photos?

Of course, none of this applies to Obama, right? Because Obama wants to get out of the war, so he doesn't have any reason to create fear of another terrorist attack. Except that Obama is having trouble with his promise to close Gitmo. And he wants to be tough guy in Pakistan, and he's been dragging his feet on getting the troops out of Iraq. So maybe he does have some reason to want people to be more concerned with dying a flaming death in blazing jet fuel than in watching whether he keeps his anti-war campaign promises.

Furthermore, it is a truism on the left that being in a winning war makes the president more popular and helps to distract from presidential mistakes. The belief in that principle is why the Left was so furious about the Iraq war --they feared it as something that would pull the country together under a Republican president-- and that is why they worked so hard to belittle the president and tear the country apart. Better a divided country than one united under a Republican. (I'll also note that this theory of the political utility of war helps to explain Clinton's otherwise inexplicable little wars and military actions). And if Obama buys into this theory of how wars make Presidents more popular, it has to be tempting for him to keep a little war in his back pocket to bring out if his popularity ever goes down.

OK, maybe you don't buy all of that. But what about Obama using fear of the Swine Flu to frighten people into thinking that they need the government to take care of them medically? He wouldn't do that, right? Because only the Republicans would do something that terrible.

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