20 January 2008

Fear And Cynicism

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Appealingly, it seems we might be balanced between a moment of great hope and another lifetime of fear, and tilting towards hope. Appallingly – and with all due respect to Senator Barack Obama – we are more likely teetering between another lifetime of fear and an even more problematic, fearful cynicism.

Ever since the Democratic field of candidates began to look strong enough that one of them just might beat a Republican opponent in the November 2008 election, my cynicism started to engender fear. I cannot shake the admittedly cynical sense that our incumbent administration will engineer an October surprise in order to frighten the nation into electing the GOP candidate – the one who will undoubtedly be cast as the law-and-order choice to save our nation. While only one candidate is running explicitly as Mr. 9/11, the others GOPers don’t shy away from proclaiming how tough they would be against any threats, even those poorly imagined.

Since that terrible day in September 2001, I have written a few times that living in fear is no way to live. I still believe that wholeheartedly. (Just as I think that an increasingly risk-averse society means we change for the worse our sense of what in our lives might be worth risking.) In a recent blog post for The New York Times, John Tierney explored a similar issue in “The Endless Fear of Terrorism,” and expressed clear concerns at the end: “... It means (to quote the common phrase after Sept. 11) that ‘the terrorists will have won’ even if they never pull off any larger attacks in the future. But is there any way to avoid decades of angst? ...”

Unfortunately, so long as such visceral fears plays a role in American politics, the answer is likely to be no. So, it seems an all-too-easy leap to make that an October surprise might be enacted – or should I say “permitted” – in order to push the GOP candidate over the top. The worst-case scenario for such a “surprise” is all-too-easy to imagine. It is also easy to imagine that the Bush administration would, in its waning days, allow this terrible event to occur through the same slipshod management that permitted the September 11th attacks to occur in the first place.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the president would engineer an attack his own nation. Absolutely not. But in a cynical view of this (very cynical) administration, it is not inconceivable that he would permit others to attack the United States because of what an attack would mean for his party. Another security brief conveniently overlooked, or a failure to translate properly an intercepted message that could tip us off, and the whole election 2008 game plan would change. Even if nothing happened, the carefully timed revelation of a near-miss attack or the arrest of a group of alleged plotters might be enough to push our fearful citizenry into an election day response in the GOP’s favor.

Whether you believe this is a real possibility depends on a few things. Your tolerance for conspiracy theories. How cynical you are. How fearful you are. And how much you believe that the Republican establishment is afraid of losing power, particularly in the wake of almost eight years of incompetent governance by President George W. Bush, his über-Machiavellian Vice President Dick Cheney, and (for six of those years) a corruptly complicit Republican-led Congress. Such predictions have been wrong before: former Senator Gary Hart (among others) thought Bush would declare war on Iran before the 2006 elections, when it was becoming clear that the Republicans would lose control of Congress.

For the sake of the lives that would be lost in another attack on the United States, for the sake of the lives that would be lost by our retaliation, for the sake of our country and its future: I hope I am wrong. That is not the kind of hope Senator Obama talks about, but it feels no less important at this moment in time.


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