Third Party & Independents Archives

Paranoia is non-partisan

Predictably, Republicans and Democrats have begun to conflate their ideological opponents with the terrorist enemy. One even gets the feeling that each fears the other more than they fear Al Qaeda. After all, outed Al Qaeda operatives are likely to be arrested immediately upon identification, while Democrat and Republican operatives freely roam the streets.

One criticism which Al Gore has consistently leveled at the Bush administration is that it seeks political advantage by playing upon people's fears. It's a common claim. Pacific Views, for instance, has been chronicling "the steady drumbeat of paranoia" coming from anonymous administration officials for some time now. When the left accuses the right of fear mongering, conservatives respond by accusing liberals of not comprehending the gravity of the threat posed by the terrorist enemy. "We're at war," they say, as if we were unaware. But then they quickly move to "put things in perspective" and explain that, on second thought, we're not really at war like we were in Vietnam or World War II. (Max Boot demonstrates how it's done in a piece headlined "Reality check - This is war." He writes, "We forgot what real war looks like. Iraq is providing an unwelcome reminder of how messy and costly it can be." But then he spends the rest of the article arguing that Iraq isn't much of a war after all "if you compare it with earlier conflicts.")

Sometimes they go even further. Spinsanity notes that "Republicans are responding to increased Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq with attempts to brand it as illegitimate and even treasonous." Peggy Noonan says the same in more diplomatic tones. She writes, "let's catch the terrorists now and leave the second-guessing for later." It's almost as if she wants to demonstrate, negatively, just how unhinged the Republican leadership has become.

But perhaps the conservatives' scare tactics should not simply be dismissed as rhetoric or propaganda. Do they not seem to be genuinely afraid? One could make a good case that these days, more than anything else, fear drives the conservative Republican's political agenda. They fear Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi more than they fear Al Qaeda. You need not exert much effort to find articles like this one by David Limbaugh, or this one by radio squawker Al Rantel. Of course, the Democrats are no different. Al Gore and allied liberals clearly fear Bush's reelection more than they fear the next terrorist attack.

This back and forth resembles the liberal/conservative debate concerning media bias. The conservatives squeal: "The media has a liberal bias!" The liberals retort: "No, the media has a conservative bias." Few step back and wonder what it means that both liberals and conservatives feel that the media are slanted toward the other side. For the fact remains that, whether or not the media outlet in question leans left or right, it's likely hawking a shoddy product.

How long will it be before US citizens, when confronted with both conservative criticism of Democrats and liberal criticism of Republicans, simply conclude, "Hey, they're both right!"? Actually, there's good reason to believe many have already done so. Or do you think the majority do not vote because they would be pleased with either of the candidates representing the duopoly parties? Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, both feel embattled because they are. Taken together they barely constitute a majority of the population. This does not mean, however, that they do not suffer from extreme paranoia.

Peggy Noonan, in the above-linked article, provides this free-associative internal monologue: "I should get a new dress for the graduation at the Saks sale. They could blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. Meg would love one of those little Chanel knockoffs from the street vender. If New York is bombed while we're in Boston, where will we stay? If Boston is bombed while we're at the graduation, how will we get home? Bring cousin Holly's number in northern Connecticut. Pick up mascara."

In setting up his political horror-story scenario, Al Rantel refers to the press conference recently held by Ashcroft and Mueller. Like many conservatives/Republicans, he naively takes the stunt at face value. This is not surprising. It confirms his prejudices, or rather, his "gut instinct," as he calls them. His attitude also reveals one of the major problems with the two party system: Republicans and Democrats are often unwilling to question or even be suspicious of roughly one half of our elected officials. Despite certain appearances, they're apologists of government, cozy with the state.

The WSWS, by the way, provided a prescient summary of the media spectacle orchestrated by the heads of the Justice Department and FBI. Soon after, the Washington Post that by calling the press conference, the officials violated the Homeland Security Act and basically contradicted the line Tom Ridge was peddling on the morning talk shows earlier in the day. One is left wondering whether Ashcroft is a rogue element, driven by his own sense of panic and impending doom, or whether the exercise was a carefully coordinated political operation.

It is no wonder that so many people have begun to ask themselves whether the Bush administration really has its act together. Is a group of officials who can neither follow their own rules, nor even fashion a consistent message, capable of successfully prosecuting the so-called war on terror?

This piece orginally appeared here.

Posted by charles sanson at June 8, 2004 7:21 PM