Sunday, March 9, 2008

"...Fear itself.." --An Open Letter to Obama

I have watched with dismay as the Clinton campaign abandoned all restraint with their sleazy TV ad featuring sleeping children at risk. My dismay increased as it appeared to work: Clinton won both the Ohio and Texas primaries, reportedly on the strength of late-deciding voters who would have been most affected by her attack ad. Now I think it is time to respond—but not by defending the Obama machismo, or by pointing out that Clinton’s claim to be “experienced” has no validity. The response should come by invalidating the entire premise of the political discussion in this country, which, since 9/11, has based itself on the politics of fear.

To put it briefly, Senator Obama should now focus his campaign on the fundamental bankruptcy of this politics of fear and fear mongering. The opening salvo should simply recall Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous line when the nation was gripped by fear of the Great Depression:

"…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…"

This line, and the policies that stemmed from it, succeeded in a way that few could have predicted. FDR was saying—and the rest of the line reinforces this with its description of fear as "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance"—that fear itself cripples any attempt on the part of people and governments to respond to a crisis. He did not maintain that there was no crisis. He simply said, nevermind the fear, nevermind the paralysis, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

This principle—perhaps updated to: "the only thing we have to fear is fear mongering itself"—fits the present situation almost perfectly. To undermine fear and the fear mongers would provide a perfect antidote and alternative not only to a) the Clinton TV commercial and her contention that Obama has no credentials to protect the nation from terrorism; but also to b) the similar attacks already being mounted by Senator McCain, when he says “the Democrats want to surrender in Iraq”; c) the entire 8-year reign of the Bush Administration, which has made fear mongering its central strategy and creed; d) the fear now mounting in the general populace of economic recession, the falling dollar, and the loss of American primacy as a respected world power.

Consider that since 9/11 every level of public discourse has been shaped and whittled down to one fear-mongering principle: terrorists are coming, we must fight them abroad before they get here, every cent invested (almost all militarily) in this fight is worth it, and, in this modern fight to the death, the American people SHOULD be afraid, should be so terrified and terrorized that they will make any sacrifice in blood, treasure, and their civil liberties in order to combat the demons planning to invade and kill us all.

It is a familiar, ancient cry that has worked almost unconditionally. Any opposition to military plans by Congress has been crippled before it could even be mounted. Congress itself has been gripped by fear—the fear of seeming to be “soft on terrorism.” And it has colluded in launching an illegal war against a country that was no threat to us; continued to fund an occupation of that same country for more than five years; spent a billion dollars a day to keep that war going; and allowed the United States to become known worldwide as an empire as aggressive, acquisitive and cruel as Rome or Great Britain. Worse, beginning with the Patriot Act and continuing with secret wiretapping of American citizens, a widespread policy of torture, and even the suspension of the ancient right of habeas corpus, the very liberties Americans are supposed to be defending have been steadily eroded. And through it all, fear has been the engine driving the whole enterprise.

For Barack Obama, all this has so far been portrayed as a weak spot in his resume. It need not be. The simple expedient of turning fear and fear-mongering to his advantage has the potential of reversing the entire campaign dynamic. For he can say, in effect, this is what we mean by CHANGE. We must change the politics of fear and fear-mongering. We must leave the fear mongers behind, and simply confront without fear the challenges and problems we have. Instead of the hyper-vigilance that has for the last eight years been the coin of the realm (and recall that hyper-vigilance is precisely what afflicts and cripples returning Iraq veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), we need to be vigilant about the threats that are real. In fact, many of these threats have been ignored because of the huge drain in both money and national energies absorbed by the occupation of Iraq. Instead of pursuing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, we abandoned the chase and invaded Iraq. Instead of shoring up the holes in our national defense against terrorist threats—our ports, our harbors, our infrastructure—we have been diverted by hyped-up orange and red alerts that turn out to be politically motivated. Instead of confronting the real threat posed to the entire world by global warming, we have been deluded into thinking that more spending and more wastage will somehow induce that threat go away. Instead of dealing with the huge losses to our national treasury due to stupendous military spending and equally stupendous borrowing, we have indulged in myopic tax cuts for the wealthy and privatization policies that have resulted in the enrichment of a favored few and the impoverishment of the many. And all this must change. The fear mongers must go.

In short, there is no need for Senator Obama to try to establish “commander-in-chief” or “government experience” credentials in the vain attempt to counter attacks. He need simply remind people what those so-called credentials (Cheney and Rumsfeld had years of experience while Bush has strutted like a wannabe Mussolini) have brought us: an unending war and a nation on the brink of financial ruin. He need simply remind the public of what fear does and what perhaps the greatest president of the last century said in his first inaugural address to a depressed nation in its grip:

"…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself..."

Lawrence DiStasi

1 comment:

  1. Hello again, Mr. DiStasi. If you have read my previous comment on one of your earlier blogs, please do not automatically write me off as some right winged extremist trying to insert my religious and political beliefs in every American that walks, thus making us all right winged robots. How boring would life be if that were the case. Right now, i am simply a college student, looking to form opinions and gather ideas, on his spring break, laying in his bed with a 102 degree fever, fixing to play a little online poker. I'm a from Texas (again, not conservative, i know it's becoming increasingly hard to believe), a moderate, looking at both sides of the scenario and judging my opinion on what i believe is best. I am a full believer in what former president George Washington said after his presidential run was over: 1)Never let the Judiciary System have more power than anybody else (not as important as #2) and 2)Never choose political parties.
    A good example of #2 is my father is a democrate and he votes for all democrates during early voting because he is in a union. I once asked my mom if Hitler were a democrate, would dad have voted for him, simply on the fact that Hitler would have been for unions. Again, please don't think i'm some right winged nut job because i have a gun, am from Texas, and have decided that i will kill another human being if the situation is ever "them or me". Thats just one of my political standings that i have already decided on.

    Anyway, being from Arlington, Texas, one of the writers in our newspapers (Arlington Star-Telegram) said that as a registered republican, he voted for Hillary Clinton because she would be easier to beat in November. In Texas, if you are a registered Dem. or Rep. you can vote in either Primary. I think it's absolutely stupid because you get Rep. voting in the Democratic Primary. It's just an easy way out. I don't know how many republicans did this, so i can't tell you how much of an effect it had, but i'm sure if the 5 million people who have access to the Arlington Star-Telegram read this, it probably had some moderate effect.

    "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Oh how i wish we could do what they do in the T.V. show "Futurama" and take the head of FDR, bring it back to life, and have him run for president again. The man was amazing and did great things for our nation.
    You probably already realize this, but bin Laden and 9/11 is still having effect on America, and thats exactly what he wanted to do. Terrorists use the mental effect of "terror". If he wanted to kill more people, he could have. On that day, what was stopping him from hijacking more planes and crashing them into more buildings and killing more people? I remember on the news in the weeks after 9/11 that bin Laden was surprised that the towers fell, killing that many more people. It wasn't planed for the towers to fall, killing hundreds more. Terrorists are trained to use the psychological effect of "it could happen to you". Living in the Dallas area, i think i am far enough away from anything big to happen happen to me, but there is always that thought in the back of my head. It could happen. And thats exactly what the terror groups want me to think.

    Global Warming:
    Don't have too much of an opinion on that... I do know vehicle emissions hurt the ozone and what not. But i also know that when a volcano erupted (i think Mt. Killamanjaro, i know, the spelling is off. Obviously not a liberal arts major) it realeased 3 times as many harmful fumes than the human race has ever created since the beginning of mankind. But i also figure that it really couldn't hurt anyone to clean up and help the environment, so i don't see the point in republicans saying global warming isn't happening. Even if it's not happening, does it really hurt anything to clean the environment up a little bit? Also, being from Texas, it doesn't snow much. Anytime we get cold weather bringing snow, we become the worst drivers on earth. It's like a dog trying to stand in a moving vehicle; it's just not going to happen. My point is, if global warming is happening, why did it snow twice this week? I know we have crazy weather, but it's snowed three times this winter, once on Thanksgiving 2007, Once last monday, and once last thursday. Thursday was the worst. Where i live in south arlington, 0 snow. About 15 miles north, where i go to school, icy roads, i deciding since i had to take a bridge to get home (a long, curving bridge part of a mixmaster) it was safer to stay at a buddy's apartment. About 10 miles north of that, 6 inches of the white stuff. In march, and november. I've never seen it snow later than Feburary 14th and earlier than December 13th until 2 years ago when it snowed in the middle of April. That just freaked me out.

    Anyway, i like reading your posts, and i hope i didn't come off as a jackass in my earlier comment. Can't wait to hear more from you.