The fear of politics

In 2008, nearly one-third of the American public tuned in to watch then President-elect Barack Obama give his victory speech from Grant Park in Chicago, after an immensely successful campaign on his part. His stance appealed to millions, advocating a message of “hope” and “change” – an uplifting speech, given the condition of our country. Even the most profound conservative couldn’t help but feel exuberated at seeing a huge piece of American history in the making.

Four years later, after President Obama was re-elected to the most powerful office in the world, there seemed to be a much mellower ambiance from the American public. For the duration of his campaign, the president averted from the same hope and change message he ran with four years ago and instead, he touted a new slogan: “Forward.” Why the change (no pun intended)? Because this presidential campaign wasn’t one that was rooted in hope and change for either candidate. Instead, Republicans and Democrats exploited fear to swing votes in their favor.

The “fear” tactic is one that’s all too familiar in the political gamut, and for good reason: It’s effective. The President’s campaign slogan is an excellent example. “Forward.” It wasn’t only his plea for another four years to finish the job, so to speak. It was a deliberate implication that Republicans wanted to reinstate policies that he says “got us into this mess in the first place,” and the only way that could be prevented was for the president to be elected to a second term. It was a slogan with a two-fold meaning and I say, well played.

Of course, the Romney campaign had plenty of its own chances to play the fear card too; mainly, a fear of the unknown, the fear of essentially becoming static for another four years as our country struggles to rebuild a crumbled economy, fear of a ticking national debt, fear of further attacks on Americans, fear of an overreaching government. It almost beckons the question, why didn’t the Romney campaign just adopt the slogan “No need to fear?”

To our disadvantage, fear is an emotion that can easily be contorted, manipulated and played to work in the favor of those trying to use it to their benefit. This isn’t new information. On the contrary, world leaders have been playing on this notion for centuries and it’s ultimately led to some of the darkest hours of humanity (i.e. the Salem Witch Hunt, African imperialism, the Holocaust, and more recently, the war in Iraq, and the unjustified, undignified treatment of anyone – anyone – versed in the Islamic religion). Fear really is the ultimate motivator.

Now that the election is over and fear’s no longer a vehicle used to determine the leader of the free world, at least for the time being, is there another, less crooked purpose for fear? Absolutely. Oddly enough, fear – the sensation that so easily divides us – could also be what reunites us. I believe the split between liberal and conservatives could be bridged by a common fear, hatred, or threat that pertains to political affiliates across the board, be they Republican, Democrat or Independent. After all, the there’s an old proverb that says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The question is, what do we have to be afraid of that carries enough threat to induce partisanship?

In the past, physical attacks on American soil have restored a lost sense of camaraderie in politics and among the public (with the exception of the recent attack in Benghazi, which actually split our country further. Maybe it has to be an attack on American soil on the North American Continent). But if there is no attack, will our shared fear of an economy damaged beyond repair be enough to reunite? How about a fear of other domestic issues like a second devastating recession; or our growing fear of revolution? What about the fear of a stalemate in Washington, or even civil war?

Certainly, the next four years are full of unknowns. My only hope is that there’s common ground someplace, fear-driven or not.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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