What Churchill warned against is exactly what the Bush administration has attempted to do, using the war against terrorism for partisan advantage and introducing far-reaching changes in social policy in order to consolidate its political power. On many other issues as well, it is now clear that the Bush administration has resorted to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit debate and drive the public agenda without regard to the evidence, the facts, or the public interest. As I will discuss later in chapter 5, the administration has not hesitated to use fear of terrorism to attack measures in place for a generation to prevent a repetition of Cold War abuses of authority by the FBI and the intelligence community. Fear of terrorism has also conveniently distracted the American people from pesky domestic issues such as the economy, which was beginning to seriously worry the White House in the summer of 2002.
Rather than leading with a call to courage, this administration has chosen to lead by inciting fear. In the 2006 election campaign, Bush was even more explicit, saying that "if Democrats win, the terrorists win."
There is legitimate fear, of course, and a legitimate and responsible way to address it. But fear of death rouses us like no other. It is unconscionable to use forged documents and false arguments to generate such panic by convincing Americans that terrorists are going to detonate nuclear weapons in cities where they live. When physical survival is connected to a conjured fear, that fear has a qualitatively different aspect. All fears should be talked about and can be talked about in a responsible way if they're real and if they're dealt with in a way that has integrity. But the intentional creation of false fears for political purposes is harmful to our democracy.
Of course, the use of fear as a political tool is not new. American history is rife with examples,"Remember the Maine" and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to mention only two. I personally recall the way President Richard Nixon used the fear of violent crime in the midterm elections of 1970.
It was a campaign I saw firsthand. My father, who was the bravest politician I have ever known, was slandered as unpatriotic because he opposed the Vietnam War; he was accused of being an atheist because he opposed a constitutional amendment to foster government-sponsored prayer in the public schools.
I was in the military at the time, on my way to Vietnam as an army journalist in an engineering battalion. I was on leave the week of the election. Law and order, court-ordered busing, a campaign of fear emphasizing crime -- these were the other big issues that year. It was a sleazy campaign by Nixon, one that is now regarded by political historians as a watershed, marking a sharp decline in the tone of our national discourse.
In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me more of Nixon than of any other 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 President Bush has shown in piling up trillions of dollars of debt.