The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines scaremonger as, "one inclined to raise or excite alarms especially needlessly." It's an excellent definition, but for anyone struggling to understand it at the gut level, I'd suggest trying to visualize the face of Former Representative Dick Armey. Many people already knew this, but I didn't realize just how true this is until I saw the fearless leader of Freedom Works on Meet The Press yesterday.
I cannot recommend watching his shockingly inflammatory "performance," but I also would be remiss not to recount ten great scaremongering tricks that he displayed. Truly, I don't think that I've seems such virtuosity since Dick Cheney was responsible for defending our civil liberties.
1. Distract - Blame the bad behavior on the left. Apparently, moveon.org ran a 2003 ad, which compares the Iraq invasion to Nazi war crimes. That's in bad taste, and totally irrelevant.
2. Diminish - Downplay the bad behavior. "There are always colorful people that show up with town hall meetings, a lot of people with a lot of colorful statements." We're not talking about your weird uncle coming to the holiday party in high-water pants. We're talking about people screaming and chanting anything and everything from rude questions to the Pledge of Allegiance to prevent any substantive dialog from occurring.
3. Deny - According to Armey, Freedom Works, "...encourage them [colorful people] to go and make their points clearly, assertively and with good manner." This does not exactly jibe with a Washington Post article that quotes him on the Freedom Works website as saying, "If you are going to go ugly, go ugly early."
4. Reveal - He characterizes a single-payer option as, "...the largest hostile government takeover in the history of the country..." What's worse is that, "...somebody in a bureaucracy with a degree in sociology..." could be in the position to deny you healthcare. Today, of course, an insurance industry bureaucrat who has no degree is already doing the same thing.
5. Involve God - Armey was sure to relate the fact that he and his Minister have discussed Medicare, and the right to withdraw from it. This way, we know that he goes to church and that his religious leader shares his fear of liberals.
6. Wear the Flag - Armey proudly declaims, "...freedom, the right to buy your own insurance..." Really?
7. Praise Capitalism - There are, after all, 1,300 insurance companies; if only government would get out of their way, they would make everything all better. To hear such talk, you would never think that the status quo is a problem. And didn't we just learn out that too little government involvement can be just as bad too much?
8. Act Grassroots - Armey extols the "...enormously impressive grassroot[s] uprising across the country..." while failing to mention that, "...major financial [Freedom Works] backers have included MetLife, Philip Morris and foundations controlled by the archconservative Scaife family, according to tax filings and other records." That last bit is courtesy of the aforementioned Washington Post article.
9. Demonize - Check out the Freedom Works web site, where you will be greeted by the least flattering photo of Nancy Pelosi ever taken, the word "unconstitutional" and the reminder that "Health Care Is Not A Right." (That whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness thing apparently does not apply to health.)
10. Yell - When all else fails, use volume to drown out your opponents.
What's sad is not that Dick Armey would resort to all of this; he's just a politician, turned lobbyist, who misses the limelight. Sad is that these scaremongering tactics are so effective. They make it easy to forget that we rank #37 in world health, a statistic that tends to whitewash the avoidable human suffering it symbolizes.