The scary politics of fear

A standard ploy in political strategy says “if you want to win a battle, use whatever means necessary to scare the hell out of voters.”

It is a tactic that has worked well for political operatives on both sides of the fence. Lee Atwater used Willie Horton to scare voters in 1988 and put George H.W. Bush in office. James Carville used fears about the economy to beat Bush in 1992 and give us eight years of Bill Clinton.

George W. Bush played fear of terrorism for full effect but he used the fear card too much and voter anger gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 and the Presidency in 2008.

Republicans regrouped and pulled the fear tactic out in the current debate over health care. Democrats, they say, want to kill Grandma. Democrats will bankrupt the country, forgetting — of course — that the economy went to hell on Bush’s watch.

But Republicans have secret weapons in this fight: President Barack Obama and the moribund Democratic leadership of Congress.

Candidate Obama the reformer has become President Obama the conformer, morphing into just another opportunist who lets lobbyists and special interests control his agenda and political expediency drive his Presidency.

I stopped trying to keep count of the broken campaign promises of the Obama administration. I can’t count that high. I’ve also lost count of the compromises that has turned the promise of health care reform into the nightmare of another high-cost government program that will drive up costs and taxes and even fine Americans who don’t fall into line and buy insurance.

Like Bush and the Republicans, Obama and the Democrats seem to forget that freedom and choice used to be Constitutional guarantees.

In too many ways, Obama is turning into Bush in blackface. He won an election by opposing war in Iraq but is expanding the fight in Afghanistan into another Vietnam-style lost cause that could end up killing far more Americans. We’re seeing more conveniently announced arrests of “terrorists” at a time when public interest is waning in the so-called “war on terror”

Iraq shifted the Bush administration’s focus away from domestic issues. Iran and Afghanistan is doing the same with Obama. Bush used fear to sell his failed war in Iraq. What we need, he said, are more troops, more resources and more effort.

Now we’re seeing the same tactics from the Obama administration about the failing war in Afghanistan.

Today, Obama announces discovery of a “secret” second nuclear-enrichment plant in Iran. Turns out the U.S. has known about this plant for four years, discovering it back when Bush was still in office, and Obama was briefed about it when he became President.

So why go public now? Bush used fabricated concern about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” to sell the world on an invasion of that country. Are we headed down the same path for Iran?

Plans for an invasion of Iran were developed during the Bush administration. Has Obama and the generals across the river at the Pentagon pulled that plan out and using a new public campaign of fear to justify a future military effort against Iran?

Franklin Roosevelt said the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

That’s what I’m afraid of.