We’ve heard the words many times, but they bear repetition “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke these words during his first inaugural speech and they apply today. The nation was in a deep economic hole in the early ’30s; it now finds itself dogged by a severe recession and a host of other problems. And unreasoning fear is too often a factor.
Some of the fear prevalent today is understandable: loss of jobs, homes, investments, a clouded sense of what looms in the future — all sources of genuine concern.
But, there is too much fear being incubated and encouraged for bald political purposes — fear that can produce no enduring good for the country and that might, instead, do damage to our democratic process.
The character of much of the fear making its boisterous rounds is dubious: Suspicion of politicians and the political process is healthy, but fear-driven radical partisanship that seeks to build unbreachable barriers between Americans is counter to the greater good. As is the fear-fueled urge to compulsively rid us of all leaders, regardless of their records.
Label-driven campaigns by certain politicians and the media puppets of the corporate world have spawned idiocies that, in turn, give birth to ugliness. People now use the terms “socialist” “communist” and “fascist” without understanding their meanings, attempting to smear any opponent with a loaded brush. Conspiracy theory-happy television commentators have spawned the fear of things “progressive”, and many Americans no longer remember that Social Security, veterans’ benefits, a woman’s right to vote, civil rights, work and wage laws, and Medicare, among others, were once “progressive” plans.
Irrational fear and racism has spurred the growth of reactionary groups intent on attacking government in general, and political groups with which they do not agree. Unfounded fear has led to abusive and destructive acts directed toward individuals and facilities.
Much of this fear results from tales manufactured out of whole cloth and centers (most recently) on issues such as health care reform. We believe those who cynically prompt these emotions are attempting to divert public attention from issues of much greater importance. They encourage fear that blinds citizens to changes that must be made for democracy and American ideals to survive — changes that could hurt the selfish, moneyed interests that provide the seed bed for the fear garden.
Most notable among these items are regulation of the financial and banking industries and campaign finance reform. Some in the financial world are back to doing what they did to help precipitate our financial crisis. Others are taking home huge bonuses. Others are feeding from the public trough while discarding employees. Large banks received taxpayer money, and borrow money at near-zero interest, yet do not lend to small business owners at reasonable rates. Consumers lack effective protection. What better way to keep people’s attention from these situations than to divert them to other avenues, playing on racial, class and ideological differences? On fear.
The need for leaders of both political parties to put an end to the nonsense, to explain, again, the nature of representative democracy and to condemn any and all baited rhetoric that urges or hints at the need for violence or uncivil action is clear.
Instead of considering a fear-prompted, thoughtless vote next November, why don’t we ponder a vote based on which politicians stand up against the lobbyists, the big money interests and the partisan hacks and condemn the politics of fear.
Enough with the fear-based reactions, the fear-infused domestic politics. We need to convert retreat into advance — as individuals, as communities, as a nation.