Well, the promises one side is making for the other.
In campaign speeches promising a “January Surprise” that will destroy Social Security, in wolf-infested campaign ads promising a terrorist attack, the candidates are scaring us. If the 1996 election was “The Year of the Woman,” 2004 is certainly “The Year of Fear.”
Fear works. Hudson, Mass., population 19,000, was so afraid of a terrorist attack that the people there asked that polling places be removed from schools. They feared a repeat of the Russian school attack here in America.
It’s not just parents afraid for their kids. Kids are afraid too. Young voters are reacting to rumors of a military draft. And President Bush and Senator Kerry, rather than trying to calm those fears, have both played to them.
Franklin D. Roosevelt knew fear worked. And he feared it. His famous Depression-era line “All we have to fear is fear itself, sounds so much better than “Don’t Panic!” They really mean the same thing. But FDR didn’t even call attention to the idea that panicking was an option. And FDR listed “Freedom from Fear” among his “Four Freedoms.”
Our current crop of politicians knows fear works. It’s easier to have people embrace fear. You nudge them, and they let the momentum of fear move them along. Then you sell yourself — the politician — as their hero.
It’s a long hard haul for a politician to lead people away from fear. You have to instill courage and confidence in people by drawing out the better part of their being — like the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 found within themselves on 9/11.
What’s worse for the politician is that the individual sees his own strengths in the aftermath of fear. He doesn’t see the politician as his “hero.”
But Tuesday, we may see more people than we have in a long time go to the polls. Maybe they’re smarter than the commercials they’ve been trying to tune out. Maybe they’ll find that courage and confidence in themselves to make a vote based on anything but fear. Maybe they won’t let fear cast their ballot for them.
I’m not scared. I’m still going to vote Tuesday. Want to go with me and hold my hand?
(Portions and thoughts contained in this article originally appeared on my Website, Watching Washington)