I’ve been quite absorbed with my startup the last couple months, but it’s been hard to escape the derailment of the Obama administration’s political agenda — in the form of the current healthcare “debate” — less than a year after sweeping to office with a seemingly overwhelming mandate. As much as I’ve pushed these concerns to the back of my mind, I can’t help but at least subconsciously find the reemergence of the politics of fear depressing.
The right-wing extremists we united to vanquish only 10 months ago haven’t disappeared; they just went underground long enough for us to lose focus and for them to prepare their insurgency. This political battle is Afghanistan, not Iraq (or more accurately, what Iraq was supposed to be) — it’s not quick or sexy and the minute we let up, the enemy will take advantage with sneak attacks.
With enough stability regained that the everyone no longer feels we’re in crisis mode and Obama in office long enough for people to realize he’s not some kind of miracle worker and that the solutions to the problems we face are going to take meaningful time and effort, the right-wing has turned up the intensity of their guerilla war by reengaging in the politics of fear. Healthcare is obviously the most conspicuous theater (‘death panels’, really?!), but Glenn Beck’s unabashed claims that Obama is a racist, the “outrage” over Obama’s back-to-school speech, and now the forced resignation of Van Jones are all part of a pattern we cannot afford to ignore.
This post was prompted by one from Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, on the Van Jones debacle entitled “We All Blew It“. I couldn’t agree more, and it made me realize this is a problem that is only going to escalate if we don’t do something to stop it. We progressive Americans, who were only finally galvanized by our reaction to 8 years of Bush/Cheney coupled with the bright promise of the change Obama could bring, have reverted back not just to complacency, but worse to underestimation.
Just because *we* are immune to the politics of fear, does not mean they have lost their power — no matter how absurd the claims in question (whether it be ‘death panels’, Obama’s racism, or Van Jones’s “extremist views and coarse rhetoric”). Remember how much we underestimated George W. Bush in the 2000 election (regardless of whether he legitimately won, none of us thought it would ever even be close)? We have to stop assuming people fact check outrageous claims and recognize that inflammatory propaganda must be stopped in it’s tracks and those who perpetuate it must have their credibility undermined so they can’t continue to do so much damage. Say something enough times (especially on tv) and too many people will start to think it’s true. The more unsubstantiated and/or downright false claims we allow the Glenn Becks of the world to shout from the rooftops, the further they will push the boundaries. We cannot afford to let these extremists define the terms of engagement — if you have to answer questions on ‘death panels’, you’ve already lost.
The politics of hope are a challenge of patience and understanding, while politics of fear pander to our desire for quick fixes and to blame others. Getting people to think beyond sound-bites and seek substance is no easy task, but we have proven it can be done. Let’s not let all that hard work be squandered by neglecting to follow through.
I won’t lie, I’ve found the continued emails from the White House and Equality California (the No on Prop 8 folks) annoying. But I realize now that’s because they remind me I can and *should* be doing more. I’m going to start by phone banking for Equality California this week, because if I don’t participate then I don’t have a right to complain.
What are you going to do?