How do you confront the fear-factor?


I went to the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Alternative State of the Union last Tuesday (we have a podcast of it here at AlterNet), and there was a panel on foreign policy, with Reps Danny Davis (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Maxine Waters (D-CA). Each and every panelist discussed how Bush and Co. play on our fears like symphony conductors, and then each and every one of them, in turn, stressed that the American people are desperately vulnerable. We're not safer then we were, we're in mortal danger from cunning enemies, Homeland Security is a joke, and on and on.

If we acknowledge that it was the fear factor, not the culture warriors' immoral "moral issues" that swung the last election, aren't we playing into the GOP's hands by reinforcing that sense of imminent danger? On the other hand, given the political culture we've been dealt, aren't there a lot of good reasons to hit the security issue and hit it hard?

I'm of two minds here. I can't tell you how refreshing it would be to hear someone channel FDR by standing up and saying, "Look, of course terrorism is a real threat, but no nation has ever been brought down by it. Our enemy is small in number and widely disbursed. We're the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and we've suffered two terrorist attacks by outsiders in the past 15 years. Many societies have dealt with far more frequent attacks. We pay taxes that buy an enormous army and a huge national security infrastructure. Let's keep this thing in perspective; we should have dealt with this from the start with law enforcement, intelligence and, where necessary, Special Forces operations. That isn't ideological, it's entirely mathematical: between two and twenty thousand people passed through al Qaida's training camps and that's a number of thugs that we could have arrested or killed without invading anyone. We are not at war, accept in Iraq, which was a war of our choosing."

That would be like a blast of fresh air on a sweltering summer day. And it would reflect our reality; are you conscious of the "threat" when you go to the grocery store? Do you really feel endangered day to day?

But wouldn't saying such a thing be political suicide? Wouldn't the right broadcast it everywhere as evidence that progressives don't take security seriously?

And didn't Sun Tsu say that you should hit a weak enemy (like a GOP Congress holding a 34% approval rating supporting a Republican president with the approval of 42% of the public) at his strongest point?

And shouldn't we point out that the hawks' shoot-first-and-think-about-what- we're-doing-never strategy has indeed made us far less safe by stoking the fires of extremism and giving the bin Ladens of the world so many wonderful recruiting tools -- the pictures of dead Arab babies, the Abu Ghraibs?

I'm genuinely torn. What do you think?

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