1/08/2009

Politics of Fear?


As I recall, President Bush and Republicans generally were accused of "dividing, not uniting" or trafficking in the "politics of fear" pretty much any time they opened their mouths. Let's concede for a moment it's a fair criticism, though I'll wager one's agreement can be entirely predicted by one's partisanship.

But can we at least concede that the incoming administration, and Democrats generally, also engage in the politics of fear? Nobody gets, or stays, elected by gently uttering maybe there are a couple things going slightly wrong and a little tinkering could improve the situation for a small number of relatively untroubled people who have plenty of low impact alternatives if the thing we're moderately adjusting doesn't work out quite right. No, winning elections comes from SCREAMING HOLY SHIT THE SKY IS FALLING AND IT'S THE OTHER GUY'S FAULT AND ONLY I CAN FIX IT HOLY SHIT!!!

Robert Reich, Clinton's former secretary of labor (someone I consider neither a red meat thrower or eater and whose work is instructive and worth reading) testified yesterday the country "will lose another 3,000,000 jobs next year" absent a stimulus plan. Will? How about 95% confident there's a 66% chance the country will lose between 2,000,000 and 4,000,000 jobs. That's probably what the regression analysis run by a smart guy like Reich bears out. But that doesn't persuade or get headlines.

Or how about our transcendent post-partisan soon-to-be President? Here's an excerpt from a speech he's giving today (emphasis mine):
For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.
Maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong. But we either act in the way he prefers or the pain is irreversible? Permanent decline? Sounds like an effort to gin up fear and close off debate to me. How very post-partisan.

I make no argument that everything is fine and Obama, Reich & Co. are Chicken Littles. But they, like all politicians, use fear as a lever. Yes, once in a great while there really are horrible things that go bump in the night, and making some of them go away is an appropriate role for government. But can the grown-ups in the room agree Democrats are perfectly happy to sell fear when it suits their purposes?

1 comment:

Mycroft said...

Democrats have an historic opportunity here. I have read in places that it is a once in a generation opportunity but I think it is even less frequently occuring than that. First, they have almost complete control of Washington, DC. This is the once in a generation part. One can argue that the Republicans had control but the reality was that the filibuster power of the minority party in the Senate was used to great effect by the Dems. This will be a very difficult lever for Rebulicans to use given the head count. Where we go off the charts in terms of the opportunity is that the financial crisis gives the Obama administration the ability to expand executive powers in a way that is unprecedented since the FDR administration. Reich and others that see this opportunity will say whatever they need to to get the things done they want before the 2010 election, which will almost certainly reduce the Dems' Congressional majority.