The politics of fear

Turn on any TV or visit a leading news website. The lead stories: “Scares at the White House,” “Ebola coming to US shores” and the latest from the terrorist organization ISIS. This constant exposure to things to be afraid of is detrimental to society. The biggest example is the so-called War on Terror.

It is time to end the so-called “War on Terror.” The ones terrorized in this war are us, the American people. The politics of fear continues to be the thing we don’t want to talk about, but the fact is it works. Using fear of shadowy terrorist threats that may not even endanger us has been used to manufacture political approval for wars we increasingly do not believe in. Additionally, these fears have been used to boost a host of other political issues.

The debacle that has been the United States foreign policy toward the Middle East has been overtly bi-partisan. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was pushed by a Republican administration, but overwhelmingly supported of Democrats. The reason for this was fear, sold strongly by the people in power. Senators were afraid of being dovish on Saddam Hussein. After 9/11 they feared being called “weak on terrorism.” We now pay the continued price for their lack of courage.

It was the same fear that led the American public to give up civil liberties. This is what led to the passage of the Patriot Act and, more recently, NSA mass surveillance brought to light by Edward Snowden.

The perpetrators of this fear belong to both parties. Even when Democrats recaptured control of Congress, they continued to fund the war. Congress has the power of the purse and could have forced us out of Iraq in 2007, something the population overwhelmingly supported. Again, it was fear that prevented them from taking action. The Democratic Congress was too afraid of being labeled “against the troops.”

Democrats kowtowing to fear would continue with Barack Obama. In 2008, President Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq War. It was one of his more popular proposals and the central difference with Hillary Clinton that gave him the nomination. When combat troops left Iraq in 2011, many credited Obama with ending the conflict. In actuality, the president pushed for more troops to remain. The withdrawal was due to Iraq essentially kicking us out via parliamentary vote.

The end date Obama has set for the War in Afghanistan is 2024. What was the motivation behind such hawkish moves? Fear. Fear of criticism. If something were to go wrong it would be laid at Obama’s feat, a fact he was aware of.

Afghanistan is an infinitely less stable country than Iraq. It is only a matter of time before Afghanistan falls into chaos, just as we have seen with Iraq. It doesn’t matter when we leave, the power vacuum we leave in our wake will cause more chaos. This is true now, and it will be true in 2024. Our political class’s collective fear is what’s holding us back from ending a war that is clearly lost.

Fear has been used not only by our political leaders, but by our media as well. This has been particularly true in the last few weeks. Ebola and ISIS have dominated the news cycle. While it is true that these stories are important and need to be covered, they need to be covered responsibly and in context. The number of Americans who have been killed by ISIS pales in comparison to the number that have died as a result of slips in the bathtub. Ebola has killed only one person on American soil, and less than half a dozen people have been treated in the United States. Watching any news program, you would believe ISIS was on our shores, and Ebola was the new plague.

ISIS is a problem. They’ve killed far too many people, and their plans for the Middle East are troubling. The fact is, ISIS is not a threat to America. This is not my opinion, it is the opinion of intelligence experts and the Army Joint Chiefs of Staff. Likewise, Ebola is a terrible problem. It has killed so many people in Western Africa, and it is truly a sad situation. You can make an excellent case we need to do more to help, but it is facetious to say it poses a serious threat to the United States. Top officials at the CDC and World Health Organization have repeatedly stated the risk of Ebola becoming a problem here is quite low. The fact is, we’ve been through this before. Hysterical warnings about SARS, Avian Flu, and H1N1 all proved to be overhyped threats.

Fear has become such a dominant part of how we handle issues, it now also dominates our politics. In most of the elections going on around the country, both sides seek to portray the other as unacceptable for office. Rather than voting FOR something, voters are voting against the “other guy”. That’s the reason voters see so many negative ads. In Maryland’s Lt. Governor race 80 percent of the ads in September were negative. In Wisconsin only 3.7 percent of the ads on air were positive during the same period. Nationwide, only 26 percent of ads for Senate races are positive. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. In 2012 a whopping 86 percent of Obama’s ads were negative. For Mitt Romney it was 79 percent.

The time has come to reject the politics of fear, simple because of their results. Voting for candidates who use fear of their opposition as a means to be re-elected has gotten us a Congress incapable of doing anything. Fear of terrorism has shredded our civil liberties and got us into wars most of the American public now regrets. Now, those same fears seem to be coaxing the American public into a larger conflict with ISIS. Let’s learn from our mistakes and reject the politics of fear.

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