Consolidating Fear for Fun and Profit

All of political science is pretty simple. Conservatives want to keep things as they are, or as they were, or as they think they were, because even if things weren’t perfect, they were working well enough. Slavery and then Jim Crow and then separate-but-equal were each seen as just fine at the time, as was a world without financial regulation or much regulation of anything at all, in the twenties. We were also all freer before Social Security and unemployment insurance and then Medicare and Medicaid, and before any government welfare programs. It’s nostalgia. They add talk about freedom and personal responsibility and rugged individualism, but those are rather abstract concepts. They’re sort of Platonic ideals. The real thing, applied rigorously, would be brutal kill-or-be-killed anarchy. They don’t want anarchy – they just want a little bit more of those three things. They fear chaos. Who doesn’t? But they do like the tried and true, even if what has been tried has turned out not to be true at all – and of course liberals like to point out that things as they were weren’t all that hot, and things as they are now just aren’t working out. They don’t fear change, they seek it out. This appalls conservatives. Start changing things and, as a society, we may lose everything, and lose our way. Let gays marry and, as Bill O’Reilly once argued, soon people will be marrying turtles – although that seems unlikely. It was, however, a deeply conservative argument. Yeah, you can start changing things, making adjustments to the law, but where does it stop? We could lose everything that matters.

That’s basically it. The rest of political science, all that stuff about the proper role of government and taxation and foreign policy and all the rest, is filling in the details. Americans have been arguing about this forever. We had the Civil War about what each state gets to decide and what the federal government gets to decide, with the issue of slavery front and center but perhaps not the core issue. There was going to be a big change, or there wasn’t, and the South did end up losing its way of life, and their economy that depended on that way of life. It was suddenly gone with the wind, so to speak.

There’s an emotional component to all this. Voters must choose to elect conservatives or liberals – or progressives or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. Conservatives promise that they will work hard to change nothing, or even better, to return to the eternal and true basics if the liberals have really messed things up with stuff like Obamacare, and all the stuff Lyndon Johnson pushed through in the sixties, and even all that New Deal stuff that FDR foisted on America. They’d get rid of Nixon’s EPA too. Liberals promise to keep working on changing things for the better – FDR and then Johnson and then Obama changed things for the better, and there will be more of that if you elect them. There’s a reason all the 2008 Obama posters all had just that one word, Hope, and folks were chanting Yes We Can. Let’s change things, for the better, for everyone.

McCain and Palin, and then Romney and Ryan, ran on the opposite of hope. That would be fear – fear that this odd guy, maybe from Kenya, would change America into something that was unrecognizable, that we would lose our way, fear that we would lose everything. Angry women at town hall meetings about Obamacare would shout that they wanted their country back. Sarah Palin talked about the Real Americans, not those city folks who wanted to change things. Romney seemed to want to take America back to 1928 or even the Gilded Age thirty years earlier, when the few smart rich guys ran everything – and everything was just fine and everyone else knew their place. Hell, those “other people” could get rich if they wanted to back then, and they could get rich if they wanted to these days. Their lack of character isn’t the government’s problem – but here was Obama making life easy from them, that forty-seven percent, with Mitt Romney’s money, but more importantly, with the money of all the good guys like him who make America great. Obama was dangerous. There was much to fear. That was the message. That’s always the message.

That’s still the message as the midterms approach, only the details have changed. Obama is a lame duck – he’ll be gone soon enough – and Obamacare didn’t ruin the country. More people have health insurance now, overall healthcare costs are slowly dropping, and the economy didn’t collapse. There’s no juice there – there’s nothing to talk about now – and Fast and Furious, and the IRS scandal, and Benghazi, turned out to be nothing much. The scary budget deficit just dropped to a record low too. There’s no way now to scare the crap of America, about America turning into Greece – and there’s no point in bringing up Jeramiah Wright and Bill Ayers now, if there ever was. Obama is no longer the issue. The midterm elections are about House and Senate seats anyway, and for governorships here and there. Obama may still be scary, but he’s irrelevant. Other scary things are necessary now, to those who rely on the votes of those who want to go back to the good old days, even if there really were no good old days.

Something useful always comes up, however, something that scares the crap out of everyone and gives the advantage to our conservative party, the Republicans. There’s always something to ride to victory, if it’s scary enough, and this time it’s ISIS and Ebola, and that old stand-by immigration – those thousands of unaccompanied little kids crossing the border and turning themselves in, asking for asylum, might be terrorists, or they might be carrying Ebola, or both. That could be the end of us all. ISIS could be the end of us all. Ebola could be the end of us all. Vote Republican.

All it takes is stirring up some fear:

The Ebola epidemic is as serious a threat as Islamic extremists, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said Tuesday. “We must take the deadly, dangerous threat of Ebola as seriously as we take ISIS,” Alexander, a Republican, told a hearing on the epidemic. “This is an instance where we should be running toward the burning flames with our fireproof suits on.”…

“We need to declare war on Ebola,” Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran told the hearing. As they spoke, President Barack Obama was arriving at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to announce a military surge to fight the epidemic.

Shouldn’t we just invade Ebola and be done with it? Send in a few divisions and occupy the capital. Replace the government with one more to our liking, then leave. Our troops would be home by Christmas, just like with Iraq. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this?

Things might not be getting that silly, but there’s this:

Erik Prince has a message for ISIS: You’re lucky Blackwater is gone.

On Friday night, the controversial founder of the private military company had plenty to say about what the organization he once ran could be doing in the fight against the so-called Islamic State – and also why Republicans need to stop being such losers.

“It’s a shame the [Obama] administration crushed my old business, because as a private organization, we could’ve solved the boots-on-the-ground issue, we could have had contracts from people that want to go there as contractors; you don’t have the argument of U.S. active duty going back in there,” Prince said in an on-stage discussion featuring retired four-star Gen. James Conway. “[They could have] gone in there and done it, and be done, and not have a long, protracted political mess that I predict will ensue.”

Prince was speaking at a dinner event for donors to the Maverick PAC, a conservative group with ties to the Bush dynasty, at the Capital Hilton just blocks from the White House.

John McCain was the Maverick in 2008, and then Sarah Palin called herself one too, for all good it did them, but the idea lives on, and there’s this:

Comparing the spread of Ebola to the ISIS threat against the United States, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said Sunday that he doesn’t believe that the President is handling each issue with equal rigor.

“The stronger Ebola gets in Africa, the more it spreads and the more entrenched it is – the more endangered we are,” Graham told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “The same (goes) for radical Islam in the Mideast. It seems to be that the President is all in when it comes to Ebola. I want to compliment him for sending troops to help get ahead of this in Africa, but we have a series of half-measures with (ISIS).”

His Republican colleague, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, went a step further Sunday, saying that the President’s foreign policy “is being trapped by his campaign rhetoric.”

“I’m very fearful as we look at the current military strategy that it is surrounding the November elections and that he won’t have the resolve to follow through with what needs to be done in a sustained effort to destroy ISIS, and we’re about to repeat the same thing with Afghanistan,” Ayotte said on Fox News Sunday.

ISIS and Ebola get all mixed up together here, but you should be scared, very scared. Vote Republican. It’s almost unfair the Election Day is always just a few days after Halloween, so everyone has just been thinking about ghosts and goblins and hideous monsters. That gives the Republicans an unfair advantage, and now Tom Cotton, the Republican congressman who is running for Senate in Arkansas, tossed in a third monster:

The Congressman told a tele-town-hall meeting that the Islamic State is actively working with Mexican drug cartels who are looking to expand into the terrorism business – and that the groups, working in tandem, could infiltrate the country and attack people in Arkansas.

On audio of the town-hall, which was recorded by Arkansas Democrats, the key moment comes at around the 10:50 mark. Cotton was asked by a voter why the children crossing the border were allowed to stay for months (presumably while awaiting a court date). Cotton launched into a long answer about amnesty and the need to build a border fence…

Cotton, from the Land of Cotton, said this:

The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.

They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.

Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico? No one pointed that out before. Those ISIS folks seem kind of busy over there in Syria and Iraq, and from Greg Sargent there’s this:

Versions of this claim have been debunked. The National Republican Congressional Committee is running a new ad attacking a House Democrat from Arizona for failing to secure the border by claiming: “Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day. Their entry into our country? Through Arizona’s back yard.” But, as Time magazine reports, federal officials have repeatedly stated that there is no active plot or operational threat that would entail ISIS infiltrating the southern border.

Congressman Cotton’s version seems to go a step further, envisioning an active, ongoing collaborative effort between the Islamic State, and Mexican drug cartels who are looking to diversify by branching out into terrorism, whose end goal is to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

And there’s this:

Since the U.S. began airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, Republicans have frequently connected the terrorist group to border security in the U.S. In August, Texas Governor Rick Perry called it a “very real possibility” that fighters from the Islamic State had already crossed into the U.S.

On Tuesday night, Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, took those comments even further. Appearing on “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” Hunter said, “At least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas.” When Van Susteren asked how he knew that, Hunter replied, “Because I’ve asked the border patrol, Greta.”

Danny Vinik dives in:

I asked the Department of Homeland Security if Hunter’s comments were true. They weren’t.

“The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground,” said DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron. “DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.”

Duncan Hunter isn’t backing down. He says the Department of Homeland Security is full of fools. The one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Apparently that happens when Democrats are in charge. The Mexican drug cartels did join ISIS and we caught ten ISIS guys sneaking into Texas, and Kevin Drum comments:

You will be unsurprised to learn that neither of these things is true. They were just invented out of whole cloth, much like Rep. Phil Gingrey’s fear that immigrant children might be bringing Ebola across the border. And I think we can expect more of it. The confluence of immigration, ISIS, and Ebola is like catnip to the Republican base. It appeals to their deepest fears. It demonstrates how feckless President Obama is. And it confirms that we need to be far more hawkish about national security. What’s not to like?

Republicans love it. Consolidating fear wins elections, and Ed Kilgore adds this:

Sometimes this stuff seems to just spontaneously spring up because it’s politically convenient. Greg Sargent went to some trouble to track down the sources for Tom Cotton’s rather audacious claim that ISIS is working with Mexican drug cartels to pose an imminent threat to Arkansas (yes, Arkansas), and found it was all sort of a circular right-wing-bloggers-to-Fox-News-to-Republican-pols collective delusion. But every time it’s repeated there’s a new “source.”

Now you can say this is just politics as usual. But let’s remember Tom Cotton is the subject of massive national GOP adulatory hype. If he wins in November, he’ll immediately be the subject of presidential speculation, if not for 2016 then soon down the road.

That too is politics as usual, and there’s that fourth thing that scares many socially conservative Republicans, who think more about what Jesus demands of us sinners down here than they think about how it’s unfair that billionaires are treated so badly – the core of the party that drives the Chamber of Commerce folks nuts. They’re angry that the Supreme Court declined to hear any of the five appeals that demanded the Supreme Court reverse all the circuit court rulings that struck down bans on gay marriage, in red states, where everyone voted to not change things. As a society, we may lose everything, and lose our way.

Dale Carpenter notes here that “gay couples will be able to wed for the first time on an ongoing basis, and have their marriages officially recognized, in politically red states.” Oklahoma is one of those:

Fifty-three percent of Oklahomans are evangelical Christians, 16% are mainline Protestants, and 13% are Catholics. Oklahoma is the 11th most church-going state, although it’s still behind new gay-marriage jurisdictions like Utah (5th), North Carolina (tied for 7th), and South Carolina (tied for 1st). A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Oklahomans strongly oppose (58%) or somewhat oppose (8%) gay marriage. The state’s gay-marriage ban passed with 76% of the vote ten years ago, which suggests that change is coming very slowly in some parts of the country.

Among others, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins predicts a watershed moment of resistance ahead, followed by an erosion of support for same-sex marriage itself …

They’ve been pushed too far and they want their country back. There’s going to be trouble, except in Utah:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which six years ago played an important role in supporting California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8, said that the new legal landscape in Utah did not affect its belief that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God.” “Nevertheless, respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values,” the church said in a statement. “As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon folks, are cool with the separation of church and state? Who knew? They poured in a ton of money out here in California to change our law back to banning gay marriage, and sent an army of chirpy young volunteers to hand out fliers and tell us, out here, that the folks in Utah knew better about such things. Now they’re fine with the law allowing gay marriage, almost everywhere now, because civil law has nothing to do with what their church does, and what their church does has nothing to do with civil law, and they’d like it to stay that way? Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers would approve, but why didn’t these folks say so in the first place? They could have saved us all a lot of trouble.

Ah, but then there’s Mike Huckabee:

It is shocking that many elected officials, attorneys and judges think that a court ruling is the “final word.” It most certainly is not. The courts are one branch of government, and equal to the other two, but not superior to either and certainly not to both. Even if the other two branches agree with the ruling, the people’s representatives have to pass enabling legislation to authorize same sex marriage, and the President (or Governor in the case of the state) has to sign it. Otherwise, it remains the court’s opinion. It is NOT the “law of the land” as is often heralded.

And then there’s Andrew Sullivan:

Er, yes it is. But the impulse to become George Wallace didn’t come from nowhere. Ted Cruz knows this, which is why he may well ride the winning issue of 2004 in the GOP primaries. I think what we have to emphasize in this social transition is support for religious liberty, toleration of each other, and a focus on the actual reality that will now unfold: the simple fact that a tiny minority is now granted equality in a core human right long since denied them, and that, so far as everyone else is concerned, virtually nothing will change.

Conservatives want to keep things as they are, or as they were, or as they think they were, because even if things weren’t perfect, they were working well enough – except in this case they weren’t working well enough for our gay friends and neighbors, and family members. And really, this changes nothing else in anyone else’s marriage. Newt Gingrich can marry for a fourth time, again, if he thinks he must, and he won’t have to marry a man. He’s safe. Everyone is safe.

What if everyone is actually relatively safe? Republicans will keep losing elections. They know that. They have to scare us. So drive them crazy. Laugh at them. That will discourage them, maybe.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Consolidating Fear for Fun and Profit

  1. Rick says:

    Two observations.

    First, about that alleged ISIS-cartel connection:

    “[Duncan] Hunter said, ‘At least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas.’ When Van Susteren asked how he knew that, Hunter replied, ‘Because I’ve asked the border patrol, Greta.’ “

    The cool thing about fear is that it works best in the dark, where the victims can’t see what’s there, which is why all those Halloween movies are always so dark.

    For example, it doesn’t matter how many DHS officials you ask to publicly comment on what their department is up to; since they work for Obama, we know they are compelled to lie. But it’s different if, like Hunter, you ask some anonymous border patrol agent, off the record. It’s the anonymous people, hiding in the shadows, the ones who can’t be traced, who are the only ones with the guts to tell you the truth. (And if what they tell you isn’t really scary? Then it’s probably not true.)

    Mexican drug cartels do a lot of nasty and violent things, but mostly inside Mexico, where the violence does them the most good. They could also do that stuff north of the border, but if they did, they’d risk blowback to their business. After all, Americans are willing to tolerate the cartels destroying the lives of willing American victims by selling them drugs, but once they start beheading random innocent citizens up here, there’s that risk that America will get very serious about putting a stop to them.

    After all, the cartels are in the business to make money, and are not in the business of helping some wacko overseas Islamist group kill Americans, especially since those same wackos probably wouldn’t mind killing the drug dealers themselves. Take my word for it: No self-respecting drug cartel is going to destroy its own revenue stream by partnering with ISIS, period.

    And the fact that so many Republicans seem to think this is going to happen is just more proof that Republicans really don’t have a basic grasp of the world of business.

    And secondly, about that puzzling Mormon-gay marriage connection:

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which six years ago played an important role in supporting California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8, said that the new legal landscape in Utah did not affect its belief that ‘only a marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God.’ “

    I’ve never understood why the Mormons, who once made such a huge deal about it being okay for men to have multiple wives, allowed themselves to become so involved in aggressively pushing the belief that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God”. Doesn’t that just cast doubt on the veracity of their whole history?

    It’s also a mystery to me how a man whose Mormon great-grandparents fled south of the border to get away from U.S. anti-polygamy laws eventually became the presidential candidate of the party who most represents the belief that marriage is between “one man and one woman”. Yes, I suppose this goes to the ultimate inscrutability of the Mormon faith to outsiders, but the same can also be said of the Republican party.

    And as for Bill O’Reilly and his turtle, people like Bill need to understand that the main reason that men and women marry each other is that there’s a large demand for them to do so, just as there seems to be substantial demand for women to marry other women, and men to marry men. And by “demand”, I mean all these people want to marry each other.

    But in all my years, I’ve never heard even one turtle say it wants to marry a human, much less a whole herd of them stampeding to do so.


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