As a kid I was a Red Sox fan. Still am. I was not quite 12 years old in 1952 when Jimmy Piersall broke in as a rookie outfielder. One of the more inspiring stories of the Red Sox Nation is that of Jimmy Piersall's battle against severe mental illness at a time when such afflictions were less understood or tolerated. The story of his struggle and ultimate triumph is chronicled in the 1957 movie Fear Strikes Out, based on his autobiography. The Democrats in Congress should take a lesson from Jimmy Piersall.
Ever since 9/11 too many Democrats have tended to cower in fear when George Bush, Dick Cheney and the GOP started swinging fear bats. Only when the war in Iraq turned so terribly bad did many have the courage to stand up and denounce the fear mongering. And, sadly, only when the economy went so bad and the war dragged on did the American people see through the concocted fears about national security in general and Barack Obama in particular to strike out fear in November 2008.
But there are three outs in an inning and Republicans, especially the former vice president are back to hitting Democrats with fear bats. And too many Democrats in Congress have reverted to pre-November 2008 patterns of behavior. This time the issue is Guantanamo and the fate of the prisoners there. The GOP naysayers in Congress and the titular leadership troika of Dick, Newt and Russ cannot defend what happened at Guantanamo nor make an honest case for keeping it open. George Bush advocated its closing but as was too often the case, did nothing to turn rhetoric into action. The current Defense Secretary, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Attorney General want it closed.
So when the facts fail and the moral argument has been lost, the GOP default position is fear. With wild stories of released inmates roaming our streets, running day care centers and umpiring little league games, the GOP has distorted the issue and frightened the electorate and cowed too many Democrats and otherwise sensible Republicans on the Hill. What utter nonsense! There are many places where the terrorists can be safely held in the United States, the 490-bed SuperMax Security prison in Florence, Colorado already holds 33 terrorists with no adverse affects. The town council of Harin, Montana offered its brand new and empty 464-bed prison for such use but the Montana senators -- both Democrats -- were no profile in courage, whining "not in my back yard." This and the anticipation that, Ahmed Ghailani, would soon be the first Guantanamo prisoner to be sent to the U.S. for trial in Manhattan, prompted a Gail Collins column in the NY Times asking "When Did Cowboys Get Whimpy?"
When will Democratic members of Congress learn the lesson the fear is a winning tactic for the GOP as long as it goes unchallenged. As with the anti-Obama fear mongering during the campaign -- "socialist", "traitor", soft on terrorists"-- standing up, exposing these fear tactics for what they are and relying on the ultimate common sense of the American people are the best way to combat fearmongering. When it is confronted and shown for what it is, the American people will turn their backs on it. Whether quoting FDR on only having fear itself to fear or remembering Jimmy Piersall's story that fear can be struck out, it is time for Democrats to stiffen their backbone, stick to the moral imperative of closing Guantanamo and stand behind President Obama.
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