It’s going to be Halloween soon. And in the spirit of the season, The Republican National Committee has introduced a fun little interactive page on their website called “Scariest Democrat.” On the opening page, a picture of each of the Democratic candidates for president is shown. Each is captured with a menacing (or goofy) expression on their face. Along side each such image, our friends at The GOP National Committee display the results of some sort of polling activity where they’ve actually been trying to gauge who is, in their terms, the scariest. Also there next to each candidate’s “scary” visage is an interactive link where you can “click here to read why” Biden, or Clinton, or Obama is “the scariest Democrat.”
When you do proceed to the next “layer” you don’t get a whole lot of specifics as to “why John Edwards is so scary” —or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. The word “left” is used a lot. It would appear that all it takes to incite GOP fear and loathing is this word, or the word "liberal," or "progressive." America should recoil in horror because Joe Biden is “widely identified as a liberal!” Run for your lives! “John Edwards has staked out the clearest position on the left!” Tremble in fear, America, for Senator Chris Dodd “is proud of his Northeast Progressive background!”
Actual policy dispute with these labeled liberals isn’t actually made available. It doesn’t seem to be necessary. Dismissive tags will do.
The sources are quoted: Newsweek, NY Times, MSNBC, Tucker Carlson, etc. They even have one or two live links to the source name calling.
To complete the theme of the piece, this useful web based resource is displayed across the backdrop of a cartoon Halloween graveyard scene, complete with lightning flashes and the revolving sound loop of rolling thunder.
I realize that, on a certain level, this was meant to be taken in fun. But as I read the various elements of this web-based media piece, I couldn’t help but recall a host of examples where this fear and loathing theme has recurred in the political discourse of the past few years, and with a lot less tongue in cheek. On the national front, I thought of our fear mongering war culture. (Or is that a war mongering fear culture?) More locally —for now, I thought of Mitt Romney launching his presidential campaign with an actual explicit list of “bogeymen” in hand (“activist” judges, his “home” state of Massachusetts, the French, gays and, but of course, liberals and Democrats).
Yes, I was just getting ready to climb up on my soap box and decry the politics of fear, not just the fear of threats and challenges like poverty and security and peace, but also the fear to actively engage in informed discourse, the way “liberal” and “left” and “progressive” have been used as a terms to contain, label and dismiss valid debate.
I’d been to see Deval Patrick and Barack Obama speak at Boston Common only a few days ago and I was ready to take something from that experience. I was going to launch into an argument that we should premise our politics on what we hope for, rather than what we’re afraid of.
Then I got an email from the DSCC, The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. They wanted to let me know that I can go to their website and watch a video they refer to as their “Halloween Howler.” There you can see stock footage from old B-grade horror movies interspersed with attacks on “vulnerable” Republican senators facing re-election in 2008. All this, over a soundtrack of vintage horror movie brass section honking and campy heroine-in-distress screams. You can log on to the site and vote for your “Scariest Republican.”
Oh, well. So much for elevating the civic discourse.
I'm told that we are in that phase of the electoral process for the presidency where we must constantly discuss our politics in terms of warring sides, or opposing camps. Each party looks to its base for support, and over its shoulder at “enemies,” so as to energize those respective bases.
But anyone who is actively engaged in politics these days will tell you, we’re always in that phase.
The analysts of what is known as “real politics” tell us that the machine matters. Who can out-fundraise and ultimately outspend their opponent? That becomes the question. They tell us that the game of politics involves savvy demographic maneuvers, more than civil democratic debate (with or without the capital “D”). To this mindset, both of these “scary” new media campaigns could end up being really quite successful.
To my mind, we find ourselves engaged in something that is, at the same time, as brutal as a war and as silly as a game, something that is ultimately sad, bewildering and just plain destructive to our democracy.
I’d like to believe we can do better than this. All of us.