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Brian Whetten

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Obama vs. The Politics of Fear

Posted: 02/26/2012 5:43 pm

Unless there's a radical change this month, President Obama's isn't going to be running against either Romney or Santorum. While one of them will win the Republican nomination, neither will actually be competing for the presidency.

That's because as things stand today, Obama's not running against the Republican Party. He's running against our fears, and the Republican Party has just been going along for the ride.

What do the Republican candidates actually stand for? Do you know? I don't. I've heard lots of talk about wanting to cut the deficit -- by reducing taxes -- but that's not a rational position. It's a ball of fear wrapped in denial. I do know that they care about America, religion, free markets and strong families. But I have yet to hear a real vision for the future.

In contrast, what are they against? That's a much easier list. They're against Obama. They're against abortion and gay marriage. They're against the Detroit Bailout. They're against illegal immigration. They're against Iran. They're against universal health care. They're against the deficit. They're against requiring Catholic hospitals to provide birth control to their employees.

And they're against each other.

Over the past four years, the Republican party has turned into The Party of No. Not because they're bad people, or because they want bad things. The problem isn't one of character, values, or beliefs.

The problem is that they've succumbed to The Politics of Fear. They've gotten trapped in a race to the bottom, to see who can use the lowest emotions to run for the highest offices.

And it's eating them alive.

As Michael Medved reminds us, over the last 80 years, voters have consistently chosen the more positive candidate for president. While anger and insecurity can fuel a short term backlash, what people really crave is leadership, not pandering. And leaders -- true leaders -- make our fears better rather than worse.

"The most triumphant and popular presidents of the modern era -- Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton -- all connected with the public through their genial personalities and kindly, positive presentations. On the other side, most of the conspicuous losers -- such as Tom Dewey in '44 and '48, Michael Dukakis in '88, Bob Dole in '96, John Kerry in 2004 -- came across as gloomy, dour and negative."

As an Obama supporter, I confess to feeling some guilty pleasure as I've watched the Party of No's desperate quest to find someone who's Not-Obama -- and who's also Not-Romney, Not-Santorum, and Not-Crazy. But, as Thomas Friedman points out, our country needs two healthy parties to address the challenges we face.

"What we definitely and urgently need is a second party -- a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country. Without that, the best of the Democrats -- who have been willing to compromise -- have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking."

In order to move forward as a country, we need both sides to let go of the Politics of Fear.

How do we do this? The first step is to name the beast for what it is. People already know that fear is a sign of weakness. It only holds sway so long as it can masquerade as either anger or righteousness. But these are both just ways of covering up our fears.

A schoolyard bully is scared, not strong. If you stand up to his threats and unmask his insecurities, he may receive compassion or pity, but not respect.

Remember when the GOP freshman congressmen threatened to destroy America's credit rating if they didn't get their way on the budget? They may have won the battle, but they had to resort to hostage taking -- the tactics of terrorists -- in order to do so.

The Catholic bishops' anger over contraception? 98 percent of their female members already disregard this teaching. I can see how that would upset them, but it doesn't make their aggravations sound any less insecure.

When Santorum compared homosexuality to having sex with dogs? This may play well with some fundamentalists, but it certainly doesn't make him seem presidential.

Each time Romney carpet bombs an opponent, his own ratings decline. Destroying his opponents may win him the nomination, but beware -- the Politics of Fear has a way of eating its own.

 

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