Fear Everything But Fear Itself
The Decider is trying to scare the crap out of us. The Leader of the Free World can hardly speak without saying something designed to scare me, scare you, scare our friends, our relatives and everybody we know.
Mr. Bush's public statements and, in fact, his entire career since 9/11 have been dedicated to proving H.L. Mencken was right when he wrote:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Mr. Bush’s public remarks are masterpieces of fear mongering, sprinkled heavily with noble mission and self-importance. He casts himself and his government as heroes in an epic battle between good and evil. The war on terror, according to the president, is “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation.” It’s a “struggle for civilization,” he said.
If you define civilization as the ability to rain steel death from the skies, the U.S. is clearly the most civilized nation in history.
By more traditional definitions, however, civilization would require that the U.S. government renounce the use of barbarism, murder and terror to dominate others. By that standard, Mr. Bush’s government is hardly more civilized that of Attila.
If this speeches are any indication, we are not nearly scared enough. Heavier doses of fear are now necessary to keep a generally peaceable American public on board Mr. Bush’s world-wide freedom train and to keep us in step with his ambitious effort to “rid the world of evil.” You can't fault him for thinking small.
Ratcheting the evil intent of the evil-doers up a notch, he tells us that the forces of Islamic terror are “determined to bring death and suffering to our homes.” Maybe so, but that’s a pretty big job, one that has proven nearly impossible so far.
The real terror alert level in most American homes has never even come close to those of the much more tangible fears like a falling real estate market or an IRS audit.
And for good reason. The real dangers of terrorism are vanishingly small. Not to trivialize a horrific mass murder, but to illustrate real danger we face, we have to note that more people die in car wrecks in the U.S. every month than died in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Your are more likely to be stung to death by insects or drown in a bucket than to die in a terrorist attack.
Statistically, you are many times more likely to be killed by an armed government agent than by a terrorist.
Nevertheless, Mr. Bush compares the struggle against a few hundred desperate Muslim fanatics to the global conflicts of WWII and the Cold War. So desperate is the president to assume the role of hero that he compares himself to popular war-time Democrats of the past, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
The battle is global and possibly intergenerational said Mr. Bush, “If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.” To which we might reply, “So what?”
A Middle East overrun with religious fanatics intent on mutual destruction will not affect the lives of Americans in any meaningful way.
Gas may become more expensive, but there are worse things than that, including the sacrifice of every last civil liberty you’ve ever know, the death and maiming of thousands of U.S. soldiers, and the bankruptcy of every American taxpayer.
When Mr. Bush is not scaring us he never tires of reminding us of the great struggle between tyranny and freedom. Tyranny and freedom are surely engaged in a struggle, as they always will be. What is not clear is just who the tyrants are.
Mr. Bush seems to hold the transfusion theory of freedom, where by draining all the freedom from Americans he can somehow infuse it mysteriously into those Iraqis lucky enough to survive the efforts of the U.S. military. To get us to lie still while our own liberties are sucked from our veins, he liberally applies the anesthetic of fear.
The president, counting on fear for support and hoping to shine in the reflected glow of FDR's wartime popularity, neglected to mention one of FDR’s most famous remarks, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Terrorists will only succeed if Americans are terrified enough to destroy ourselves.
Mr. Bush has been wrong about pretty much everything involved in his military adventure in Iraq, from the terrible WMD’s to the open-arms welcome the GI’s were going to get from “liberated” Iraqis. In a call for further support for the debacle he warns, “Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone.”
I'm willing to take the chance that he's wrong about that too.