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Using Fear as a Political Tool

August 3rd, 2004

A few days ago, as you are almost certainly aware, the terror alert was raised to “orange” the the D.C. and NYC areas because the Bush Administration told the public that from a raid in Pakistan it had just uncovered a plot to attack the stock exchange and The Citigroup Center in Manhattan, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington and Prudential Financial Inc.’s headquarters in Newark, N.J. Police shut down streets, banned trucks from driving anywhere near those buildings, started searching vehicles and asking people for documentation. A police presence can strongly be felt around these areas, and it is clear that very large amounts of money and other resources are being spent on this alert. Bush told the country that “What we’re talking about here is a very serious matter based on solid intelligence.”

Well, now it turns out that although the information was just uncovered this week in Pakistan, the information itself was three to four years old–pre-9/11.

So why did we immediately jump to high alert and put massive resources into protecting these buildings as if the attack were coming tomorrow? There’s no good reason. You act suddenly if you find information that is current–but not just because you currently found information which is old. The dated evidence would indeed explain why the Bush people said that they knew “where” the attacks would be, but “not when.” And Bush & Co. claim that their sudden panic response is justified because they are hearing chatter that an attack will take place sometime before the election–despite the fact that there is absolutely no connection between the aged Pakistan data and the current chatter data.

It’s like you find an old newspaper from a few years ago that carried a warning that a tornado could strike somewhere in the U.S.–and so you panic and immediately hide in the southwest corner of your basement. Everyone else would think you to be a fool, and after a few hours, even you begin to wonder exactly how long you should stay down there. The Bush reaction to this data is similar: the information is years out of date, and in that time any number of factors could have changed. There’s no reason to believe that these plans are the current ones by al Qaeda, or anywhere close to being the only plans–there could be far more targets easily switched to, or any number of other terrorist plans that we know nothing about. And how long will millions of dollars and countless man-hours of resources be spent? After three weeks and no action, will we still but shutting down the traffic around our financial centers and stopping everyone who goes there? And even assuming that the terrorists were, after 3 or 4 years, just now on the verge of carrying out such an attack, what would keep them from simply changing their target?

It comes as no surprise to me that CNN is downplaying this point to the extreme. Watching their coverage, they only obliquely refer to the aged data, and otherwise paint this as a strong, smart and effective response to critical data. This is simply one more reason why I am, in disgust, abandoning CNN as much as I can–even to the point of trying to get satellite TV instead of cable, since on my current cable plan CNN is all there is for news.

Many sectors of the media, especially television, are turning sharply against Kerry now, portraying him in a “losing” light, while showing Bush in a “strong president” light. The news agencies are covering Kerry only in the context of “where’s the bounce?” even as they carry, in the immediate wake of the Democratic convention, nothing but stories on the hyped-up terror threat and how Bush is reacting to it, cheerleading the president all the way.

The fundamental point I’m leading up to on these events is the fact that the Bush administration is rather blatantly using fear as a political weapon, and the media is lapping it up. But how can the administration so easily wag the dog, so flagrantly play on people’s fears, and not have people recognize it?

A lot of it has to do with the fact that people do not want to admit that they are afraid, and even more, do not want to admit that they allow their fears to dictate their actions. I suggested as much to one person I was debating with on the Internet, suggesting that fear was being used as a tool–and that person completely rejected the possibility, as if it were ludicrous to even suggest that it could be done.

But it is a classic political weapon, used down the ages. Make the people afraid, and then tell them you are the one who can save them.

Think about how it has affected you. I mean, really, seriously consider it. If you are on an airplane and you see a group of Arab-looking men, would you be at least nervous? After getting off the plane hours later, would you not be even a little more willing to support racial profiling in screening passengers for security threats? What if you worked at one of the buildings being watched in the current alert? Wouldn’t this whole scare make you think twice about going to work, and would it not make you more eager to support actions to thwart the terrorists? If the answer to those questions, and others like them, is “yes,” then congratulations: you have just had your political views adjusted by fear.

Fear is not only a weapon, it is perhaps the most powerful weapon that can be used in politics. And Bush is brandishing this weapon like no other, using it without concern of the consequences. He knows that people will respond to it; every terror alert he issues, no matter how flagrantly false, buys him votes. It’s a win-win strategy: if there is an attack, he looks justified in warning us, no matter how misdirected that warning would be; if there is no attack, it looks like he prevented it. And as few who are fooled want to think they’ve been fooled, he can herd great portions of the public in his direction in the knowledge they will continue to flock toward the voting block.

Don’t allow fear to influence your political decisions. Don’t accept simply what you see and hear from the television media–the print and web media tends to have more information, better grounded–use Google News to help find your sources, not Fox or their wannabe-twin CNN. And vote based on the facts, not the hype.

I myself have a fear: that Bush and the GOP are just too damned good at lying, cheating, and stealing elections. But that’s not what is driving my vote. It is, however, driving my determination to stop what I regard as the greatest threat to America since Joe McCarthy: Bush and Cheney.

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  1. August 3rd, 2004 at 15:00 | #1

    And Howard Dean was the only one I heard with the balls to call it. Right after CNN trots out Joe Lieberman;

    ďI donít think anybody who has any fairness or is in their right mind would think that the president or the secretary of homeland security would raise an alert level and scare people for political reasons. Thatís outrageous.Ē

    Simply the fact that raising the terror alert is in the control of the President and Tom Ridge should be enough to make anyone think twice.

  2. August 3rd, 2004 at 23:24 | #2

    I can not agree more. Using fear as a political weapon. Worrysome. I’m amazed that Bush has still a good approval rate. Don’t they see the obvious, there in America??

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