Obama must play the fear card


Talking Points Memo posts Andrew Sullivan's reaction today to the Lieberman/Graham op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and Sullivan's comments cut right to the heart of what Obama must do in order to win:John McCain is making it quite clear what his foreign policy will be like: tilting sharply away from the greater realism of Bush's second term toward the abstract moralism, fear-mongering and aggression of the first. Not just four more years - but four more years like Bush's first term. If the Democrats cannot adequately warn Americans of the dangers of a hotheaded temperament and uber-neo-con mindset in the White House for another four years, they deserve to lose. If Americans decide they want a president who will be more aggressive and less diplomatic than the current one, then they should at least brace for the consequences - for their economy and their security.In my view, the fear card has only one truly compelling target in this election: McCain.For my money, that last comment is where it's at. Obama seems almost pathologically resistant to using hard-hitting tactics against McCain, including fear, due to his self-proclaimed commitment to the "new politics" he believes he's engendering. But, this seems to me a short-sighted and self-destructive policy, particularly if the objective is to win. Obama's revulsion towards the gruesome, fear-based campaigning of Bush, Cheney, and Rove is understandable, and the growth-stunting, mania-inducing prevalence of fear-mongering in our media is certainly something to be combated. But, as the Nirvana lyrics have it that 'just because you're paranoid doesn't mean I'm not after you,' well, just because fear is a cruelly effective campaign tool doesn't mean that there's nothing to fear. I fear a John McCain presidency, particularly, as Sullivan notes, because it will be a rapid regression to the illogical, criminal, and reckless war-waging of Bush's first term. I am afraid of that. More than fear itself.I always contended during Kerry's '04 campaign that he ought to use the very same tactics that Bush was using - fear of terrorism, fear of violence on American soil - but that, unlike Bush, Kerry would have the truth on his side. He could pin Americans' fear of terrorism and the violent Other to Bush by repeating ad nauseum that Bush's unnecessary war foments more instability and sometimes violent anti-Americanism abroad, that Bush's gutting of America's federal agencies, like FEMA, makes us less safe, that Bush's recklessness means that a dangerous, unstable character runs the White House. He could simply repeat truths so that when people viewed Bush's twitching gesicht during the debates there would be a different frame at work - one in which those twitches indicated a dangerous personality.Instead, Kerry opted for Vietnam-as-feel-good spectacle, "reporting for duty," "the Sunshine Boys," "A stronger America," messages that were dead on arrival. If it's true that Americans vote on a feeling, Kerry gave them nothing that could compete with fear. If McCain can successfully make Americans afraid of Barack Obama and afraid of a future without a warm grandfather figure holding a shotgun, then Obama will lose. Fear will trump "hope" and "the new politics."I could be wrong. Adam Doster wrote a fine piece for our cover in June about Obama's unprecedented voter registration efforts. Perhaps, like in Iowa, Obama is succeeding so thoroughly at voter registration and on-the-ground organizing - a sort of complex machinery whose mechanisms would certainly elude our vapid major media - that Obama doesn't feel the need for hard-hitting campaigning. Perhaps he knows something we don't about the success he will enjoy due to the grassroots efforts of his campaign. We can only hope.

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