In 1933 as we sank into the depths of the Great Depression, the new Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured us that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That statement is probably the only thing FDR ever said the Republican Party agreed with. The difference being that FDR wanted to end fear and, ever since WWII, the Republicans have wanted to provoke fear.
The worst thing that befell the Republican Party since FDR was the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. Throughout the Clinton Era, it no longer had its “The Russians are coming!” battle cry. From Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, it had relied on the people’s fear of Soviet communism to stay in office. Regardless of the Democratic Party’s Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine, Korean War, Vietnam War, and successful containment of the USSR, the Republicans successfully used the Big Lie about Democrats being “soft on communism.”
The best thing that happened to the Republican Party after 1991 was Osama bin Laden’s attacks on 9/11. It will be using the people’s fear of terrorism as a political ploy for as far into the future as anyone can imagine. As long as Osama and/or his fellow al-Qaida lieutenants exist, the Republicans will claim to be the only ones who can keep us safe. That could explain why the diabolical Bush-Cheney administration diverted American forces into Iraq rather than pursuing Osama in Afghanistan and permanently destroying the Taliban’s control there. It could also explain why the only CIA unit that was specifically assigned to capturing Osama was quietly terminated in 2005 by our renegade co-presidents.
On September 11, 2001, I listened to National Public Radio’s reporting of the cold-blooded, suicidal assaults on the Twin Towers. While devastated by the loss of thousands of innocent lives, one other thing kept running through my mind – the 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate. Essentially, the movie is about a communist plot to assassinate an American presidential candidate at a party convention and use the tragedy to get a demagogue and secret communist supporter nominated and elected president. Because the American public and Congress would be terrified of a communist conspiracy, he would be given extraordinary powers. The convention’s vice presidential candidate, Senator Johnny Iselin, had made a name for himself pretending to be an anti-communist, stirring up fear by claiming there were 57 or more communists in the US Defense Department. He’s clearly based on Sen. Joe McCarthy and his infamous communist witch-hunt in the early 1950s; however, Sen. Iselin is an undercover communist agent groomed to become the American “dictator.” He is supposed to dramatically pick up the slain presidential nominee and address the convention.
Angela Lansbury plays Johnny Iselin’s wife, the key American operative behind the communist scheme. She explains it to her son, who happens to be the one the commies brainwashed to be the assassin: “The speech is short, but it is the most rousing speech I’ve ever read. It has been worked on here and in Russia on and off for over eight years. I shall force someone to take the body from him; and Johnny will lead those microphones and cameras, with blood all over him, defending America even if it means his own death, rallying a nation of television viewers with hysteria to sweep us into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy.”
Similarly, I realized on 9/11 that brainwashed Muslim terrorists were handing Bush-Cheney’s floundering neoconservative government everything it had been waiting for. The Republican reactionaries, who want to turn back the clock, would be able to justify their extreme domestic agenda by saying it was needed to carry on a perpetual war on terror: As expected, they put everything from the environment and social security to habeas corpus and other civil liberties on the chopping block. They catered to whatever the Christian fundamentalist political extremists asked for. Already becoming the most secretive administration in U.S. history, they rationalized even more secrecy. Most importantly, they connived to use the fear of terrorism to warrant the needless invasion of Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.
In his book The Peloponnesian War about Sparta’s long ordeal against Athens, Thucydides taught an important historical lesson: Wars are often fought because of the fear of what a power might do, not because of what that power is actually planning to do. Hence, using evidence they knew to be outdated and questionable, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and their cronies got the people and Congress to fear Saddam’s mythological weapons of mass destruction and his nonexistent “links” to al-Qaida. Condi Rice, officially the National Security Advisor at the time, played along with them and warned if we did not invade in time we could be engulfed in a mushroom cloud.
The real purpose of the Iraq War was to make Mr. Bush a “war president” and to help Republicans win the elections in 2002 and 2004. Mr. Bush may not have been a “Manchurian candidate” in ’04, but his presidential policies have certainly led to an American debacle in war and to a decline of democracy at home. In the recent National Intelligence Estimate, our 16 government spy agencies concluded our invasion and occupation has actually increased Islamic radicalism and the threat of terrorism since 9/11. Nevertheless, the G.O.P. hopes voters will still believe that “We are safer today than we were before 9/11.” We are safer only in the sense that we are more aware of the dangers.
The survival of Osama bin Laden and the people’s fear of him were extremely important to the Republican Party’s plans to maintain control of the executive and legislative branches. However, I want to remind you that the “rumor” that Osama had been living luxuriously in an underground bunker on a ranch in Crawford, TX, was totally without merit. No eyewitnesses ever spoke publicly, nor did anyone report a disproportionate number of supplies being delivered to the ranch.*
* No such rumor existed – it was merely a figment of this writer’s imagination.
Update: Ironically, the terrorist fear factor was trumped in the Elections of 2008 by the economic fear of the Great Recession and a Democrat was elected President. Also, it was that Democrat, President Barack Obama, who resurrected the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and ordered the Navy Seals’ attack that ended his life.
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised and updated version of an essay that was published October 5, 2006, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.