The Politics of Fear (February 19, 2009)

I have heard this term bandied about a lot recently on CNN, blogs, and out of the mouths of other talking heads. “The politics of fear,” alludes to Obama’s supposed strategy of scaring us into taking the wrecked economy seriously. The theory put forth by the cynical is that President Obama takes advantage of the current climate of panic to push forward his left wing, Democratic agenda. Although I first heard the phrase from the nonpartisan, but always cranky Lou Dobbs, I smell the influence of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk in selling this concept to the people of America. So there we have it, “the politics of fear” takes its place as a catch phrase for 2009, much like “Main St./Wall St.,” “Joe the Plumber,” and “Yes, We Can” reflected the political atmosphere of 2008.

But here’s my problem with the accusations by some that the Obama adminstration is somehow working the paranoia of the average American to its advantage: if anything I don’t know if Obama’s message has been dire enough. Agreed that he definitely used forceful rhetoric to get the always inept Congress (and I lay the blame in a bipartisan manner) to act on a stimulus package. But what part of Obama’s address was untrue I’d like to know? The following are actual headlines encountered while perusing theNew York Times in the last two days. Now, the Times may lean to the left, but I doubt there are a lot of sane folks on the planet who would accuse it of yellow journalism:

  • Newly Poor Swell Lines at Food Banks Nationwide – As the recession continues, more people who are unused to asking for help are picking up free groceries.
  • Stocks Slip on Bank Uncertainty And Economic Woes
  • $275 Billion Plan Seeks to Address Housing Crisis
  • Wall Street Quietly Searches for Direction
  • Fed Offers Bleak Economic Outlook – The Federal Reserve cut its economic outlook for 2009 on Wednesday and warned that the United States economy would face an “unusually gradual and prolonged” period of recovery as the country struggles to climb out of a deep global downturn.

Now my dear readers, I must ask, since I am no economist, which of these stories are in any way fraudulent or based on opinion, rather than fact? Do those who assert a “politics of fear” honestly believe that there is some great conspiracy between Obama, the Fed and the media designed to convince us all that Doomsday is approaching, just so the Democrats can foist their agenda on us? This seems disinegnuous and self-protecting at best, delusional and dangerous at worst. We are a nation suffering in part because of our collective unwillingness to look toward the future, confront reality and address systemic problems. It seems to me that buying into the “politics of fear” is just another way to hang onto the status quo and avoid doing any real work. That was the Bush legacy, not the Obama motivation. Our new Prez is certainly not afraid to tackle issues, issues that in many cases should have been dealt with before I was born. I am grateful to Obama for taking these lame duck accusations on the chin and pushing forward.

I considered this topic because of what’s going on in my own home. My husband has been out of a job for almost two months. After weeks of sending out resumes, working his inside connections and lowering his expectations on what he’s willing to do for money, he finally got a hit from a small company in the Chicago suburbs. However this lead, like so many during these times, turned into a painful near miss this week, actually the day of his birthday (Tuesday). He got all the way to the offer round, and then was not selected. We are starting to eat into our savings, and all economic indicators point to no relief on the job market any time soon. This is taking a major toll on my hubby, a man who perhaps more than most, ties his self-worth to his career and earning power. When he hears Lou Dobbs, or any other pundit, accusing Obama of playing the “politics of fear” with his sobering messages about the State of our Union, it is all I can do to restrain him. In our experience, and those of our friends and acquaintances, the economic reports are usually lagging behind what we see and hear on the front lines. If anything, the situation is much worse than the wags are saying.

I am about to give up on 2009 entirely. We are approaching the end of the first quarter, and I (and Bill Clinton) do not believe we’ve hit bottom yet. It is only then we can begin to rise again. This puts me in the unique position of praying for a faster, rather than a slower crash.

If all of this mess was just a distorted view brought on by the “politics of fear,” I would think I would have woken up from this nightmare by now to find a gainfully employed husband, my 401k portfolio having recovered the 38% value I lost in 2008, and my sister able to sell her house and move her expanding family to a place with enough space for their kids to grow.


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