What lies at the center of so many of our current political controversies is fear. Fear-mongering is the one and only weapon which Bush followers use time and again to solidify their support. When Karl Rove says, as he did yesterday, that "national security" is going to be the centerpiece of the GOP pitch leading into the 2006 elections, what he means is that they are going to spend the next 10 months doing everything possible to scare Americans as much as possible so that they once again dispense with all other issues and throw themselves into the arms of the party which promises to be their Protector
. One often-overlooked fact in all of these discussions about the Bush-worshiping biases of national journalists is that most of them live in New York or Washington, DC -- the two cities attacked on 9/11 and two of the most likely cities to be a target of future attacks -- and, consequently, they are frightened out of their minds by The Terrorists. These are people who are largely coddled, effete, and isolated, and so many of them are still so clearly plagued by the post-traumatic stress of 9/11 and are driven into Bush’s protective arms because they are petrified.
Chris Matthews –- who sat around with faux-tough guy Don Imus last week exchanging homophobic machismo banter over Broeback Mountain – is one of the most frightened people in the country. He does not see George Bush as an elected official to be held journalistically accountable, but rather, sees Bush as his "protector." This is what Matthews said in the days before the 2004 election when a new Osama bin Laden video emerged:
Now it takes it all back to 9-11, the moment of the president's greatest heroism. ... This creates a terrible situation for the challenger because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this. He knows that the American people have only one president at a time. And that's George W. Bush. We only have one protector at a time. We have to rally behind the president when we're threatened by an enemy. Osama bin Laden. And he's done it again.
And here was Matthews just a couple of weeks ago interviewing NSA whistleblower Russell Tice about Bush’s illegal eavesdropping program, where Matthews shrieked that it was George Bush’s job to protect him even if it meant that Bush has to break the law to do it:
MATTHEWS: Well, then, how can you do it?
TICE: Well, I -- all the Middle East -- a large broad-brush approach could be used where you -- you know, if you have a haystack of information, you suck it all in to try to find the needle.
MATTHEWS: We're under attack on 9-11. A couple of days after that, if I were president of the United States and somebody said we had the ability to check on all the conversations going on between here and Hamburg, Germany, where all the Al Qaeda people are, or somewhere in Saudi [Arabia], where they came from and their parents are, and we could mine some of that information by just looking for some key words like "World Trade Center" or "Pentagon," I'd do it.
TICE: Well, you'd be breaking the law.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, maybe that's part of the job.
You can smell the hysteria, the fear, oozing out of every word. How scared must a journalist be to come right out and say that he sees the President as his "protector" and wants the President to break the law in order to protect him?
Bush opponents need to figure out how they are going to overcome this fear because it is prevalent among journalists and Americans generally, and the Administration is going to ramp up the fear-mongering by many degrees as we approach the 2006 elections.
To watch Fox News ever since the new bin Laden video emerged is to view a world in which the apocalypse is upon us. Putative terrorism "experts" parade across the screen, one after the next, talking about how the new videotape is likely some sort of secret, coded signal to activate the countless Al Qaeda terror cells lurking behind every suburban grocery store in our country. Some of these "experts" say that the truce which bin Laden offered is a sign of weakness (which means Bush is winning) while others say it’s a diabolic trick to lull us into complacency (in preparation for the big attack)
. Bush Administration officials appear with slavish hosts while they solemnly discuss the sleeper cells they have disrupted but warn of many others still lurking. All the while, Osama’s evil visage is relentlessly projected on the screen. The last segment on Fox which I just saw was ominously entitled "Are we Prepared?" It entailed scary music and dark images and discussions with various local police officials concerning the heightened preparations they are taking against attacks in light of this new threat.
Never mind that we have had countless such videos from bin Laden and various other al Qaeda members over the last four years. The Administration and its media allies never pass up an opportunity to scare everyone half to death. It is their primary and, by far, most effective political strategy
. But simply complaining about this will do no good. Bush opponents must formulate a method for challenging this narrative directly. Until now, Democrats have been unwilling to describe this fear-mongering for what it is, due to their own fear that, if they do so, they will be accused of not taking the terrorist threat seriously enough. They have therefore let the Administration's fear-mongering premises go unchallenged –- that terrorism is the greatest existential threat we have ever faced, and it is thus strictly prohibited to even question whether we are over-reacting or responding rationally to it. But accepting those false premises is a recipe for defeat, because if terrorism really is the unparalleled threat which the Administration depicts it to be, then the Party which promises to be the most extreme in defense against it will always win. That's what happened in 2002 and 2004.
There is a narrative available that can be used to undermine this fear-mongering without looking weak. The sort of hysteria that one sees from journalists like Matthews and that is the staple of Fox is, at its core, a weak and unattractive trait. It is also the opposite of everything that has defined this country. When we have faced threats in the past, we haven’t run around like hysterical shrieking children begging our Government to abridge our liberties and sacrifice our national aspirations in exchange for protecting us. The fact that we have remained calm and resolute in the face of threats is why we became a great nation, and we shouldn’t give in to this fear-mongering and hysterical weakness now.
There are a couple of posts, one by Digby and one by me, which attempt to formulate an approach for depicting the fear-mongerers as the weak and irresolute ones, which they are. Other commentators, such as Needlenose, have argued that the image of Bush as protector should be attacked by pointing to his many failures -- from Katrina to Iraq -- as evidence that he is the last person who one should count on for protection.
Whatever approach is taken, this problem of fear is a serious one and shouldn’t be underestimated. Fear is a powerful emotion and it is highly susceptible to manipulation. And as the reaction to the new bin Laden tape shows, Karl Rove and the rest of the Bush followers have every intention of pumping that well a lot more. Bush opponents have to find an effective strategy for defeating it and settle on it. We haven’t so far.