Fear Mongering

After being so effectively employed throughout the Bush regime’s 8 years in office, it’s no great surprise that fear is now being used by leadership candidates north and south of the border in the run up to this year’s elections.

Fear is such a visceral response that it’s hard, and for many impossible, to ignore. This isn’t anything new, and it certainly wasn’t discovered by the Bush gang, but it was put to astoundingly good use. It took lies about stolen incubators in Kuwait to galvanize support for the first war in Iraq, and this time it was the threat that Saddam would end the human species with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that put a hesitant public behind the marching troops. Of course, there was no more basis in truth to the claim of WMDs than there was to the incubator scandal, but the truth of the matter doesn’t make any difference; when people were disninterested in starting a military campaign in a foreign land far from their homes, they were swayed to give a turd by placing the impetus and importance directly in their back yards. I’m sure this would work wonderfully for places that actually would benefit from intervention, like Darfur and Africa. If we could just find a semi-plausible way of theorizing that genocidal gangs in Darfur were actually working on creating and launching a nuke against western civilization, I bet we’d have an armored regiment on the ground in days.

Again, there would be no actual truth behind any of it, but what does truth matter? Scare the bejesus out of people, and you can get anything done. Fear is the universal solvent.

So, what better way to derail a political campaign than to introduce a little bit of good old fashioned terror?

Case in point, McCain-Palin. I’ll be honest and admit that I can’t stand that woman, and find John McCain more than a little doddering and smarmy. But, setting that aside for another rant, both have hitched their collective wagon to the desperate hope that they can paint Barrack Obama as a terrorist through his loose and tenuous association with someone who conducted terrorist acts decades ago in the US. Palin’s insistance on pointing out the connection as often as possible, despite the fact that others who have analyzed the claim have declared that Obama doesn’t have any real connection to the man, is an attempt to raise the same kind of fear that Bush has been feeding off of throughout his entire two-term run in office. I have no doubt that this is being done because there isn’t anything truly credible or useful that Palin has to inject into a campaign that itself is not very useful or credible, but it’s notable because it’s such a transparent attempt to raise the boogeyman in order to scare people into doing what you want them to do. Obviously, it’s hit a chord, as many McCain supporters have been heard calling Obama himself a terrorist, and others have been so moved by the ploy that they have called out for his death.

Case in point, Jack Layton. Another individual I have little use for, I’ll readily admit that Layton has refined his used car salesman approach and has become a relatively effective campaigner. He was actually doing pretty well in his bid for the office of Prime Minister, until he started insisting on the horrible fear everyone has of, well, everything. People are afraid of losing their jobs. People are afraid of losing their homes. People are afraid of losing their investments. People are afraid of the steamroller that is the economic crisis in the US that is threatening to destroy the very space-time continuum and cause us all to simply cease to be. And by declaring loud and often what Jack Layton wants everyone to believe they fear, he is making fear more accessible for everyone. Whether people were actually afraid of these things in the first place is secondary to Layton’s desire to have everyone afraid so that they will be more likely to buy a car from him.

Stephen Harper is doing it. Gilles Duceppe is doing it. To a small degree Stephane Dion is doing it. Really, the only one that doesn’t appear to be engaging in this tactic is Elizabeth May, but who the hell cares? She doesn’t have a chance anyways.

And none of the fear mongering is useful. It’s a great persuader, and a wonderful way of influencing people by playing on their primal natures, but it doesn’t elevate the discussion any or address the real suitability of any of the people playing at this game.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s a tactic of the weak and fearful.
Palin is inarticulate and uninformed, so the only thing she can rely on is trying to appeal to people’s primal fears and their irrational emotions. Why else does she try so hard to be so gosh-darned by-golly bottom-rung salt-of-the-earth Joe-Six-Packerish? Because the only way she can hope to win any votes for McCain is to play for poularity, because popularity isn’t and has never been about anything more tangible than charisma and good looks (neither of which she is particularly strong in, either.)

McCain is weak on policy and can’t express himself very crdibly either, so it works just fine for him to repeat the mantras and soundbites given to him by his handlers, none of which have much more to do with truth or issues than Palin’s. Fear is his friend too, because without it he’d actually have to answer some of the questions he’d rather deflect by raising non-issues.

And Layton knows that he will never be Prime Minister, but he wants to grab as much support as possible to bolster his position, from which he will continue to ply his weasle trade, advancing his causes just enough that he can claim to have done something useful next time around. He’s not a leader, he’s a follower that tries to ride the coat tails of others and steer the course in minute ways by pressing right or left on the collar.

Someone wrote a letter into the local newspaper suggesting that for the final days of the campaign, all parties should pull their attack ads and just spend their time talking about why they are suitable for the job. My greatest concern is that if candidates set aside their fear mongering, they wouldn’t have anything left to say.

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