GOP fear mongering an immoral distortion

William Witwer

Unfortunately, fear mongering has long been a staple of politics. Where Democrats tend to criticize intelligence, Republicans criticize patriotism; both sides tend to stretch the facts and exaggerate the consequences of certain actions in an attempt to achieve their agenda.

On Feb.  18, the Republican National Committee held an informal meeting to discuss strategy, after which a careless participant left a 72-page document in a hotel room. A Politico reporter named Ben Smith found this document, eventually revealing its contents to the media. Though several Republican leaders condemned it without going into specifics, no one seemed particularly surprised.

The document was a PowerPoint presentation aimed at getting Republican donors to contribute money, and featured several offensive caricatures, including Obama in full makeup as the the Joker à la Heath Ledger, Nancy Pelosi as Cruella De Vil and Harry Reid as the always confused Scooby Doo. More importantly, the document bluntly corroborated the GOP’s plan to label Democrats as “tending towards socialism.” It also mocked committee donors as people easily satisfied with “tchochkes,” the Slavic word for toys.

Michael Steele, the leader of the Republican National Committee, sort of apologized for crossing the line.

“Clearly it’s not something that I would tolerate and certainly would not want presented to me, and we’re dealing with it administratively,” said Steele.

This is not a particularly strong denunciation; there is no promise of finding the person who created it and firing them, or really even an acknowledgment of a problem with the divisiveness of most of the rhetoric. This is simply an attempt to distance the GOP from that infamous picture of our President (seen frequently at rallies of the Tea Party), underneath which there is the usual tagline, “SOCIALISM.”

Either Republicans don’t understand what exactly constitutes socialism or they consciously choose to use an inflammatory word to describe their opposition because it is effective in preying on people’s fears. Socialism is radical, revolutionary even: and the word evokes the horrors of the USSR. The attempt to label our relatively conservative Democratic president as Stalinist is simply a falsity, a misguided political strategy, but the sheer repetition of the word serves to lend such attempts credibility. In my opinion, the extremely negative arguments in this document are not just incorrect and frightening, but they constitute an immoral rejection of reason.

I don’t want to just pick on the GOP, because Democrats also have a history of fear mongering, with some extreme leftists going so far as to call the government of President Bush “fascism.” Though the totalitarian governments of both Hitler and Stalin are scary in fundamentally the same way, labeling any free U.S. government as such will always be a deliberate and immoral misrepresentation.

That being said, however, mainstream Republicans frequently and unrelentingly have called (and will continue to call) Obama a “socialist,” where the rhetoric directed against Bush seemed (to me at least) not quite so insidious. The worst incident of Republican fear mongering in my memory was Sarah Palin’s infamously incorrect concept of “death panels,” i.e. panels which would decide the lives of the sick, if the health care plan passed. If it was not so provokingly stupid, this distortion would be almost laughable.

We live in an age where the Machiavellian manipulation of people’s fears for political gain is easier to do and much less consequential than it ever has been. The loudest, often least informed voices seem to have the most impact, and any ill-chosen remark can be wiped away by the meaningless ritual of public apology (see Glenn Beck, a former disc jockey infamous for making fun of a rival radio host’s wife’s miscarriage on the air, a day after it happened: yes, this actually happened).

Thus, I am not attempting to assert that all Republicans readily agree with the tactics of their party. Indeed, my father is a member of the dying breed of moderate Republicans (my mother calls her marriage a “mixed marriage”), and while even he just shakes his head at the “socialist” rhetoric, he opposes the Democratic solution to the problem of health care not due to fear, but to principle and reason.

In this way, it is important to handily reject the Glenn Becks of the world and to take offense at every image of Obama as the Joker in powdered sugar make-up because these things prey on our fears, not our reasonable minds.