: Al Gore keynoted a conference on fear at the New School last week and Edward Rothstein in the NY Times exposes the rhetorical game they played there, belittling fear of terrorists as the external enemy while amplifying fear of the Bush administration as the internal enemy.
The irony couldn’t be more obvious: Gore accuses Bush of using fear of terrorism to sell his agenda, while Gore uses fear of Bush to sell his man, Dean.
: “Beginning with former Vice President Al Gore, who delivered the keynote address, speakers asserted again and again that the American government is preoccupied with instilling fear,” Rothstein writes.
But the dominant idea was that, as the conference’s thematic statement put it, fear was being “encouraged by our government and exacerbated by our media.” It was compared with the irrational fear of Communism and the perversions of McCarthyism. It was described as part of a counter-constitutional coup by a radical right.
Of course, I find that utterly offensive. I know personally how deep and real the fear is. I felt the searing heat of a jet exploding on my face; I breathed the dust of their destruction into my lungs; I saw the lives lost with my eyes. I do still live in fear, a very real fear. To dismiss that fear as an irrational variant of McCarthyism is to dismiss reality of the thousands of lives lost in that very real attack and to portray as harmless ideologues the terrorists who waged it; it uses the attacks against us to wage a self-serving political attack within. I am most disturbed that Gore — for whom I voted — is leading this attack.
Mr. Gore asserted that a “powerful clique” had the run of the White House. We were being ruled, he said, by a president with a “determined disinterest in the facts,” who “abused the trust of the American people by exploiting the fears of the American people,” and a Republican party that thinks of other Americans as “agents of treason.” The “machinery of fear is right out in the open,” he said, “operating at full throttle.” …
For the most part … fear of the administration was strenuously cultivated.
Rothstein demonstrates that the conferees, just like the White House, play fast and loose with the ties between Iraq and terrorism. They accuse the White House of tying the two together. Yet they refuse to acknowledge that it’s not Iraq we fear — or not just Iraq; it’s terrorism.
By narrowly focusing on aspects of the Iraq war, most speakers treated the answer as evident: fear was unjustified. Even if that assessment is granted for the sake of argument, what of the larger context of the war on Islamist terror? Didn’t the attacks of 9/11 involve something on a different scale than what the conference statement called a “small, determined band of fanatics?” Isn’t that a crucial point? What kind of enemy is being faced?
There was a reluctance to use the concept of an enemy to refer to anything but domestic political opponents.
Rothstein goes on to quote Lee Harris’s Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History, a new book with an “idiosyncratic brilliance and unrelentingly aggressive vision about the war on terror.” Harris, Rothstein writes, argues that we live “in a civilization with an intellectual culture that is reluctant to take the idea of an external enemy seriously; its enemies, though, have no such qualms.”
“We are caught,” Mr. Harris writes, “in the midst of a conflict between those for whom the category of the enemy is essential to their way of organizing all human experience and those who have banished even the idea of the enemy form both public discourse and even their innermost thoughts.”
For those prepared to accept even some of Mr. Harris’s premises, there is nothing to fear but the lack of fear itself.
And that was the core of my problem with Gore’s boy, Howard Dean (and, I believe, the core of the voters’ problem with him). He put himself on the vanguard of this position, portraying the President as the enemy. He made it seem as if Bush were amplifying the threat and fear of terror but in saying that, Dean only tried to ignore the real threat and the real fear for the sake of his own political convenience. He tried to present us as a nation divided when, in fact, we are a nation united against a common enemy and that is not Bush (or Kerry or Dean or Gore). It is terrorism.
: It should come as no surprise at all that Eric Alterman was a conference speaker and that he just wrote a column lionizing Gore for what he said there.
I was amazed at Gore’s courage in calling the President to task for his (undeniable) manipulation of Americans’ fear of terrorism and also at Gore’s willingness to apply the same unflinching analysis to Bush’s economic policies, environmental policies and abuse of civil liberties. And he didn’t stop there.
Alterman says Gore “is taking on the entire media structure that makes it so difficult for his increasingly complex critique of the Administration’s policies to be heard. It’s not only their fault for lying to us; it’s everybody’s fault for letting them get away with it.”
Of course, Alterman says this from inside that very media structure (and he frequently and proudly points out that he is inside that structure and the rest of you are not). But that’s Alterman. No surprises there. Ever.
: I went to read Gore’s speech at Salon and became very disturbed.
Gore starts by exploiting and perverting the 9/11 attacks on us into an attack on the government:
We are meeting, moreover, in a city that has itself been forced to learn how to conquer terror. And because we are gathered very close to ground zero, we should of course begin our deliberations with a moment of respect and remembrance for those who died on 9/11 and for those who have been bereaved.
Terrorism, after all, is the ultimate misuse of fear for political ends.
Indeed, its specific goal is to distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population that is hugely disproportionate to the actual danger the terrorists are capable of posing.
That is one of the reasons it was so troubling last week when the widely respected arms expert David Kay concluded a lengthy and extensive investigation in Iraq for the Bush administration with these words:
“We were all wrong.”
The real meaning of Kay’s devastating verdict is that for more than two years, President Bush and his administration have been distorting America’s political reality by force-feeding the American people a grossly exaggerated fear of Iraq that was hugely disproportionate to the actual danger posed by Iraq.
How could that happen?
Could it possibly have been intentional?
Parse those words. Gore is saying that it’s not the Islamic terrorists who “distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population” but Bush who is doing that, even intentionally.
He is tying 9/11 and Iraq together in a logical knot more convoluted than any Karl Rove et al ever tied.
And under this rubric, Gore analyzes every act of the administration: Fear creates the economic policy, the energy policy, and, of course, he argues, the policy on terrorism and immigration.
The irony, of course, is that Gore and Dean themselves are trying to use fear — fear of Bush — to defeat Bush. They are doing everything they accuse Bush of doing, only they are directing their fear against Bush instead of bin Laden.
Gore then plays on the ultimate American political fear:
In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me more of Nixon than any other previous president.
Like Bush, Nixon subordinated virtually every principle to his hunger for reelection.
He instituted wage and price controls with as little regard for his “conservative” principles as Bush has shown in piling up trillions of dollars of debt.
After the oil embargo of 1973, Nixon threatened a military invasion of the oil fields of the Middle East. Now Bush has actually done it.
Both kept their true intentions secret.
Like Bush, Nixon understood the political uses and misuses of fear.
: Like Nixon, Gore understands the political uses and misuses of fear — and he demonstrates that all too clearly in this very speech.
: Listen to the rhetoric at this conference and from its conferees and you will hear a perverted agenda that diminishes the danger of our enemies and our fear of them and attempts to exploit a fear from within for cynical political purposes.
That was the battlecry of Gore/Dean — and they have lost. Thank God for the wise American electorate.
The essential question of this election is: Are we at war?
The necessary answer is: Yes.
Who would have thought that we must then ask the next essential question: Who is our enemy?
And the only answer can be: Terrorism.
This is not a war within and don’t believe those who say it is.