October 29, 2007 Leave a comment
It is a great thing that Paul Krugman's columns are no longer hidden away behind the NYT's subscription wall. He had a terrific column today outlining just how outrageous the Republicans attempts to scare us these days are:
not to succumb to ?nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.? But that
Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president ? including
all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the
Republican nomination ? have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the
centerpiece of their campaigns.
Consider, for a moment, the
implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy
advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran ?as
soon as it is logistically possible.?…
Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is
beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in
many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear
weapons. But let?s have some perspective, please: we?re talking about a
country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose
military budget is roughly the same as Sweden?s…
And Mike Huckabee, whom reporters like to portray as a nice,
reasonable guy, says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, ?I?m not sure
we?ll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the
greatest threat this country?s ever faced in Islamofascism.? Yep, a
bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power ?
which aren?t even allies ? pose a greater danger than Hitler?s panzers
or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.
All of this would be funny if it weren?t so serious.
the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a
political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was ? an
atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary ?
the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from
Most Americans have now regained their
balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration?s
rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected
by the fear the Bushies stirred up ? perhaps because fear of terrorists
maps so easily into the base?s older fears, including fear of
dark-skinned people in general.
And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.
Having read this today, I particularly enjoyed Bill Maher's riff (funnier, less insightful) from this week's HBO show. Then I realized that the occasional Maher columns I see at Salon, are actually his rants from “Real Time.” Anyway, this was a really good one:
New Rule: This Halloween,
every time you see something that's supposed to scare you, like a
skeleton or a severed head or the ingredients in diet pudding … take
a moment and think about fear: What are you afraid of; what should you
be afraid of. What's really scary this Halloween is that the same group
of idea-free losers who won the last presidential election could win
the next one by making us afraid of the wrong things. Which is why this
year for Halloween, I'm going as something truly horrifying: a melting
polar ice cap…
At the Republican debate this week, Mike Huckabee said, “Islamofascism is the greatest threat we ever faced.” Really? More than the Nazis? And the Russians? And the Redcoats?
In his latest ad, Mitt Romney warns eerily that Muslim jihadists
want to establish an Islamic caliphate covering the whole world,
And I thought the people scared of gays and Mexicans were paranoid.
Islamic terrorists taking over America? They can barely get across the
monkey bars. Our defense budget is $600 billion a year, they're using
guns they took off a dead Soviet in 1981 — I think we can hold
We're the most powerful nation on earth with the largest economy
and the best military, and we're made to act the fool by a few thousand
cave dwellers who still put out their video on VHS.
At the risk of making this post record length (there was just so much good material in both the Krugman and Maher columns), I realized that Political Science actually has a little light to shed on the matter, too. Basically, a series of research programs have shown that fear appeals can be quite effective. When exposed to fear appeals, citizens become more attentive to political information and more open to changing their opinions– obviously something of great potential value in an election campaign. Political Scientist extraordinaire, Jamie Druckman, nicely summarizes this line of research in a recent Science.