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He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat. -- Napoleon

Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be. -- Lactantius

Fear has its use, but cowardice has none. -- Gandhi

As fear is close companion to falsehood, so truth follows fearlessness. -- Jawaharlar Nehru

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular.  -- Edward R. Murrow

As Democrats approach this election season, there is only one message that we need spread to the American people:

Close that damn window, fast!

Republicans can see the last of their credibility slipping away.  The curtains are ripped back, people can definitely spot the funny little men pulling the strings of the mighty wizard of Crawford, and they haven't missed how these assorted string pullers have managed to enrich themselves through the struggle -- and death -- of others.  Corruption, thy name is Republican.

But remember the idea of the "Overton Window?"  That's the Republican think tank theory of moving public opinion by moving the extremes.  That's just what the Republicans are up to now.  Rather than deal with any of the messy details of the various disasters they've created, they're trying hard to grab the window of public opinion and crank it wide open to a host of nonsense.  They want us to believe that:
* Terrorists are a threat equal to that of Hitler or Communism.
* Iraq is only a part of a much larger story, not worth considering on its own merits.
* Accepting torture and the surrender of privacy is necessary.
* Anything said against the Republicans or how they fight this battle is helping the terrorists.

Each of these statements is patently ridiculous, even obscene.  But keep in mind how the Window works.  The point is not to get you to believe these statements, the point is to move the conversation in their direction by setting the extremes.  And it's working.

Republicans are once again getting us to fight on their ground.  Almost the entire public argument about the "war on terror" is being fought on Republican territory, territory where even if Democrats win, we lose.

Democratic candidates have been dragged into talking about the details of the conflict, and arguing that they'll do better.  In fact, worried that they'll be called "chicken," Democrats are fighting Republicans to one-up some of the current strategies, promising even more security here, there, and everywhere.

Democratic candidate A: "the Republicans are failing to protect you from this dire threat at the ports, I'll do it better."  

Republican candidate B: "why my Democratic opponent just admitted this is a dire threat, and yet he voted against bill XYZ which would have given us vital powers to go after these Satan-worshipping fascist cannibals where they live!  He wants your children to die."  

We've giving them 99% of what they want, framing the debate with their terms, and handing them all the power on this issue.  By arguing in the way we are, we're agreeing that terrorism is the greatest threat we face, that we have to take extraordinary steps to stop it, and that Americans should be afraid.  Somehow, Democrats seem to think that they can play different notes on the Republicans' psycho Wurlitzer of Fear, and not feed the exact emotions the Republicans  are counting on to pull this thing out of the fire.  

Sounding the Right Notes

Instead of trying to shout against the gale coming through the window the Republicans have opened, we need to close it.  We need to push just as hard on the other side of this window, until the conversation gets back to where at least half of it can be fought on familiar Democratic terrain (you know, like facts and reason).  

Here's an example of how it should be done.  This is Zbigniew Brzezinski  speaking this past weekend on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Question: Do you agree with the president that the US is fighting the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century?

Brzezinski: I think it's an absolutely absurd formulation.

Get that?  There's the kind of response that any attempt to compare this handful of isolated nutcases to what was at the time the world's largest military force: absolutely absurd.
Brzezinski: We're dealing with a bunch of fanatics.  We're dealing with some foolish fundamentalist haters of the west.  We're dealing with some outraged ethnic and nationalist feelings.  But to elevate this into a global ideological collision, and directly somehow reminiscent of the twentieth-century struggle with Nazis and communism, is an absurdity which either reflects profound ignorance, or a totally manipulative desire to use public anxiety for political purposes.
Bam.  That's the window being slammed shut.  Look at the terms Brzezinski  uses to refer to the terrorists: foolish fundamentalist fanatics.  That's good enough that it should be the standard Democratic response every single time the Republicans trot out "Islamo-fascism."  It works to both belittle the terrorists, and it helps to reinforce the idea that fundamentalism is the issue, not Islam.  

Asked to listen to part of Bush's speech in which he cries havoc over the idea that the terrorists are Hitler's spiritual heirs, the questioner next asks Brzezinski if we are in a "clash of civilizations."  Again, the answer comes back quickly: no, but if Bush keeps up this language, there's a danger we will be.  Again, Brzezinski puts in his note to downplay the so-called "war on terror," and gets in a solid dig: Bush is increasing the danger, not reducing it.   Bush has managed to isolate America from the rest of the world, and he's increasing the number of terrorists we face.

That's the right note to take.  It's not that we'll fight the "war on terrorism" better, it's that the whole idea of the war on terrorism is absurd.  If Democratic candidates feel they've been bullied into pretending the emperor's new camouflage suit is really cool, at least the rest of us should not be afraid to tell the truth.  Don't buy into the do it better, argument.  Instead, take a page from Ian Lustick's new book, Trapped in the War on Terrorism.  

Every time the Republicans try to turn up the heat by comparing the terrorists to Attila the Hun and Hannibal, shake your head in disdain.  Those poor guys on the right have really lost it.  We made our way through the Cold War against a much more dangerous enemy, and we didn't do it by quaking in our boots or jumping at every shadow.  Those poor Republicans, they really do seem to be afraid, don't they?

The Democratic message this election year can't be to scream just as loud as the Republicans, pointing out something to fear that the right missed while scraping together their big barrel of over-the-top hysteria.  Instead, our message should be the opposite.  In fact, it should be the same message that came to the shepherds in the field: Fear Not.

Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy.  Available to you this day are good Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.  Vote for them and, yea verily, we'll let these poor yellow Republicans get home so they can hide in their root cellars.

Originally posted at Political Cortex

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 01:56 PM PDT.

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