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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Politics of Fear, the Revenge of Hope

The Supreme Court decision about military tribunals for the detainees in Guantanamo is another step in unraveling the politics of fear that the Bush administration and the majority in the Congress have manipulated for the last five years.

It is now time for a politics of hope to emerge.

The manipulation of fear has been the basis for a staggering array of Bush administration policies and congressional votes.

Fear of terrorists led to the creation of a lugubrious federal bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, which spends $30 billion a year but cannot protect the citizens of New Orleans.
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Fear of terrorists allowed the administration to create surveillance programs over our finances and telephone calls, evading constitutional protections and eroding our civil liberties.

Fear about energy supplies has led to the most damaging long-term increase in oil prices in our history, a call for drilling in Alaska and a "flash flood" of inflation, which is only starting to bear down on the U.S. economy.

Fear of "big government" has led to the dismantling of environmental protections built up over more than 30 years and the erosion of international efforts to reverse global warming, putting the entire planet at risk.

Fear that secular society and culture threaten each individual's choice of religious practice has been manipulated by the administration and the congressional majority to create animosity throughout American society, solely in the service of electoral advantage.

Fear of the "other" fuels a brutal national campaign against millions of residents of the country who migrated here at great risk, seeking the kind of opportunities Americans have enjoyed.

Fear of change, especially in Congress, has been used to create hatred and animosity targeted at gay Americans.

Fear has been used by administration officials to purvey a doctrine of presidential "wartime" power unconstrained by the Constitution.

Fear is a powerful weapon in politics, but its days are numbered. The administration and the majority in Congress have tried to arouse us recently about gay marriage, the flag and the future of democracy in Iraq. Polling numbers indicate it no longer works.

What we need is a politics of hope to replace the politics of fear. What is the politics of hope?

That we can grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time.

That we can protect our patronage and diversify our energy resources successfully.

That we can welcome the diversity of this nation as one of its greatest strengths.

That we can protect ourselves against terrorists while retaining our civil rights.

That we can meet human needs without losing control of public spending.

That we can accept each other as brothers and sisters of the human race because of our differences, not in spite of them.

That we can responsibly preserve the unborn and ensure private choice in a reasonable way.

That we can provide adequate health care to the entire nation.

Hope is especially important in the way we engage the world. Terrorists and proliferators are also moved by fear and hatred. We must defend against them. They are also symptoms of an underlying disease - the inequality, the poverty, the inept, unresponsive governance and the ethnic and religious hatred - that fuels terrorists and nations living in fear and insecurity.

This underlying disease is a most important task as we engage the world. We need to balance the tools we use to tackle these problems. The military is a fine but inadequate instrument for dealing with them. This means strengthening our diplomacy and international assistance.

Above all, it means engaging the world with some humility - the humility George W. Bush promised but failed to deliver. Leadership is not "my way or the highway"; that is the course of isolated unilateralism, rooted in fear. Leadership is bringing others along - allies, international organizations and nongovernmental groups, all of which have a stake in a more hopeful world.

The politics of hope is not a palliative; it will not make the problems disappear. It is an attitude - that we and others can tackle these tough issues and find solutions over time. The door is open to this kind of politics.

It began to open when the administration and Congress intruded in the private lives and pain of the Schiavo family tragedy in Florida last year. The politics of fear unraveled rapidly when the rhetoric of homeland security met the ineptitude of the response to Hurricane Katrina. It seeped away as the propaganda of progress in Iraq and Afghanistan was exposed by growing uncertainty and insecurity in those countries; we simply have not delivered what we promised.

The Supreme Court has, in the latest decision, put another nail in the coffin of fear. Regardless of how dangerous some of the Guantanamo detainees might be, they deserve the same legal protections and processes we guarantee ourselves. Hope may be on the way.

Gordon Adams is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Email to: gadams02@starpower.net.

© 2006 The Baltimore Sun
The Politics of Fear, the Revenge of Hope: "The manipulation of fear has been the basis for a staggering array of Bush administration policies and congressional votes."

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