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Republicans Are Scared Stupid

The GOP'S culture of fear

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It's the holiday season; time to enjoy family and friends, and soak up the spirit of joy and love. Unless you're a Republican, of course, in which case you're apparently doomed to cringe through the holidays, waiting for a bomb to go off under your BMW. After all, there are zillions of terrorists around the world getting ready to blow up the entire United States any minute now, right?

The GOP, you see, is trapped in a cocoon of fear. Think I'm exaggerating? Just listen to what has happened to the party's rhetoric, aka All Terror, All The Time. The Republican presidential candidates seem particularly determined to keep the party faithful shaking in their boots, casually speaking of horrendous scenarios of future destruction during their debates, as if America was surrounded by millions of jacked-up Muslims with nuclear bombs in their pockets.

Tom Tancredo, for instance, is running a commercial in which someone hides a bomb in a backpack and sneaks it into a U.S. mall. Fred "Lazy-Boy" Thompson, not to be outdone, routinely reminds his audiences that, "the terrorists are out there and they want to kill you, to kill all of us." For his part, Mitt Romney always pounds home the view that America is up against people who aim "to collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us." Mike Huckabee declares that the United States must resolve, "to fight the greatest threat this country has ever faced, Islamofascism." Rudy Giuliani (who, in case you haven't heard, was mayor of New York on 9/11) essentially claims that if he's not elected president, more people will die in another terrorist attack. That was good enough for perennial nutjob Pat Robertson, who picked Rudy as the man best qualified to "defend us from the terrorists' bloodlust."

In other words, Republicans these days sound as if they've flipped out. What's worse is that their "We're all gonna die!" mantra has spread to sizeable segments of the public. Letters to the editor, for instance, teem with warnings of savage infidels coming to kill us all. Things are getting so out of whack that when a local teenager flew a small plane over a high school stadium during a football game, the first thing a number of spectators (including a CMS official) thought of was terrorists.

People, this is insane. Take a deep breath, think a minute, get some perspective. First, Republicans' claims that civilization itself is endangered by Islamic terrorists who are "the greatest threat this country has ever faced" is so historically ignorant, it's absurd. Now, al-Qaeda is an admittedly ruthless, dedicated bunch of murderers. But for crying out loud, they're a ragtag group of not-even-heavily armed fanatics who, despite our invasion of an Arab country, can't even garner majority support in any country they've infested. Yes, of course they're dangerous and need to be dealt with. But to think they could "collapse freedom-loving nations" is beyond a stretch -- it's simply nuts.

If you take a minute to compare al-Qaeda to some of the threats to our national existence the United States has beaten back -- Washington, D.C.'s burning during the War of 1812; the Civil War; Hitler and Hirohito's powerful, aggressive armed forces; the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal -- you have to agree with historian Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers, who explains that Islamic terrorism isn't even in the top tier of threats this country has faced. The fact is, according to the National Safety Council, you are more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack. I don't know about you, but being struck by lightning isn't something that keeps me awake at night.

Some Americans' irrational fears undoubtedly stem from the way the Bush administration reacted to the 9/11 attacks -- by panicking and portraying the United States as a country whose existence is in danger, threatened by unseen enemies coming at us from every direction.

Polls show that Americans are more concerned today about health care access and the economy than terrorism, which is normal since those are issues that affect them every day, unlike the vague dread of the future the GOP is offering as its "vision." Thankfully, most of us have regained a sense of balance. Conservatives, though, are still wallowing in their fear of enemies, which is what conservatives have historically thrived on -- e.g., the "commie under every bed" paranoia of the early-50s Cold War. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, they've been uncomfortable not having a juicy enemy to be scared of. It's how some people get through the day; some of them even think their fear is a form of patriotism, when it's actually the opposite.

Bush supporters often say that we need to "listen to what the terrorists say" in order to grasp the dangers lurking around the world. I agree with them. I just wish Dubya had listened to Osama bin Laden, who, as early as the 1980s, said he wanted to drive the United States out of Arabia by bogging us down and bleeding us dry in a guerilla war.

Here's the bottom line for me: the whole point of terrorism is to make a country's population walk around in fear every day. The Republican Party, as far as I can see, has already thrown in the towel.

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