GOP strategy based on fear

March 11, 2010


Fear again.

Not hope, nor patriotism, nor progress, nor any of the nobler emotions and impulses by which human beings are driven. Nope. None of those.

Instead, fear. Again.

We’ve seen this movie many times. So there is little that is surprising about the Republican National Committee fundraising document recently reported by Politico, the one that offers strategies to get donors to part with their money. Donors can, it says, be persuaded to give by appealing to their egos, by offering them tchotchkes, or by promising them access. And some, the small donors, the $5 and $10 Janes and Joes, can be persuaded if you play to their fears.

The sole surprise is that someone actually wrote it down as a PowerPoint presentation and was absent-minded enough to leave a hard copy in a hotel.

Here, then, is the smoking gun, concrete validation for those of us who contend that since Sept. 11, 2001, fear has been the GOP’s leading export, that under the aegis of George W. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove, the party’s message boiled down to a single command: Be very afraid.

And some of us have eagerly complied, fearing Muslim terrorists, Muslim-Americans, Latino immigrants, gay people, black people, even “salespeople” if they say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Some of us see socialists around every street corner.

The use of fear as a political expedient is neither new nor limited to the GOP. In the ’60s, Democrats ran an ad suggesting a nuclear holocaust would ensue if Americans elected Barry Goldwater. A GOP ad from the ’80s suggested Willie Horton would kill you if you voted for Michael Dukakis.

But has the drumbeat of fear ever been as intense and unrelenting as it’s been since that awful morning in September? “We’re Americans,” said Colin Powell just days after the terrorist attacks. “We don’t walk around terrified.”

Maybe you thought for a moment he was right. But of course, he wasn’t. We — the nation of moon explorers and frontier tamers, of Iwo Jima and San Juan Hill, of dreamers, makers and doers — have been “very” afraid since that selfsame morning. And this has been largely due to Powell’s own party, which, in almost every election of the last decade, exploited a simple truth: Frightened people are not thinking people; if you can make someone scared enough, you can make them do or believe anything.

And as winning a formula as that proved to be during the long, tiring decade just ended, it also left you wondering if they could not offer — and we did not “deserve” — better. It left you nostalgic for politicians left and right who sought to move us by nobler expedients, who knew that people are at their best when they rally for, instead of always, and only, against.

Instead, we now had people who told us we actually had much more to fear than fear itself, who said morning in America had become high noon, a never-ending showdown between us and Them, a perpetual face-off against frightening, evil Others.

The document discovered by Politico proves, not that proof was needed, that this fear-mongering has been neither incidental nor accidental. And that is inexcusable. That the party knows this can be seen in the stampede of pachyderms rushing to disavow the document. “I”m ashamed of that,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

We will be able to judge the sincerity of the party’s mortification by whether it embraces or shuns fear mongering in the coming election. Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.

Meantime, I leave you with a quote from the eminent philosopher Lucy Van Pelt, who once told her friend, Charlie Brown, “If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.”

And who knew Lucy was a Republican?

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


Stephen Roberts 5 years, 1 month ago

Lenard Pitts - the Dems are just as bad but since you think they walk on water, then the Repub must be the bad guy. For the first ime in my life I gave money to the RNC. Why?? Because I am disappointed in the way our country is headed and I want change.

ivalueamerica 5 years, 1 month ago

Berrypenders seems to forget that Stimulus was passed under Bush, the most failed President in American history because he created the worst economic disaster in this country since the Great Depression.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 1 month ago

At a time when the country needed to rebuild its confidence in the economy and the political system, the Republican Party leadership took advantage, just like they did after 9/11. It shows what a bunch of rats we voted for.

The problem I see is that there are Democratic rats and Republican rats and we need to clean house.

I am worried when I see extremists from both sides taking advantage of the American people.

I am sure these kind of nuts (aka: Glenn Beck types) have always been around but in the information age, they have never been more irritating or in your face as they are now.

When Glenn Beck started holding up swastikas and communist logos to describe Obama, I thought it was about as low as you can go. The guy is a complete loser.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

{putting on Thready McThreadjack hat} The wife of a sitting Congressman gets sent to prison for 37 months on a bribery charge and the MSM pretty much ignores it. Guess which party he belongs to. http://theblogprof.blogspot.com/2010/03/monica-conyers-sentenced-to-37-months.html {taking off Thready McThreadjack hat}

PosseComitatus 5 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Pitts is one of the best mouthpieces to help keep the population divided.

Only fools are still playing this shell game.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

Worth repeating: “28 March 2009 at 6:40 p.m. beobachter (Anonymous) says… …Ok, I'm done, you don't need to ban my account, I won't be back.” ;)

georgiahawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Neither side has been stellar! Criticizing one side for their shortcomings should not automatically align you with the other. The sad state of politics is not the fault of one but the fault of many! However, Pitts is right about what has obviously been the rights political strategy. Turn on Beck someday, listen to Rush Limpone for just a few minutes, tell me that fear mongering is not their strategy (for at the very least lining their pockets with cash) and if it causes all sorts of dysfunctional politics, so be it, it is part of the free enterprise world God wanted so bad.

grammaddy 5 years, 1 month ago

You go Leonard! Ignore the haters.I love your columns and enjoyed your commentary when you spoke her. Can't wait to see you again!

Olympics 5 years, 1 month ago

Obama to ban fishing!!!!
Oh wait, just another example of right wing fear mongering from the last 48 hours.

You better go buy some more ammo and guns for the gun/ammo ban that you been talking about for the past 18 months. I hear he's a muslim and wasn't born in this country. pass it on.

jaywalker 5 years, 1 month ago

Riiiight, Lenny. Man-made global warming and health care reform aren't based on fear tactics whatsoever. Was it Biden or Dean that recently exclaimed, "If you're for the insurance companies you're against the American people." Ooooo! Argumentum ad populum, let's scare the sheep.

Olympics 5 years, 1 month ago

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Oww4A... 3min...great bit by Doug Stanhope on Fear....contains 5-6 cuss words.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 5 years, 1 month ago

commuter (anonymous) says… "For the first ime in my life I gave money to the RNC. Why?? Because I am disappointed in the way our country is headed and I want change."

Well, if you want "golden years" kind of change, then that's what you just paid for. Lemme guess, "you want your country back."

Welcome to your united states of whatever.

jayhawklawrence (anonymous) says… "When Glenn Beck started holding up swastikas and communist logos to describe Obama, I thought it was about as low as you can go. The guy is a complete loser."

Now that we've seen the RNC "memo", it's obvious where Beck/FNC got their talking points from. FNC=RNC mouthpiece=Fear Network Cooperative.

georgiahawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Gun ownership I have no problem with, gun worship, I do!

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

John M. Browning loved us and wanted us all to be safe. That's why he invented the 1911.

Stuart Evans 5 years, 1 month ago

does Leonard not realize that Democrats have been praying on peoples fears for years? who does he think has really kept their thumbs on the African American community for the last 50 years or so?

Stuart Evans 5 years, 1 month ago

ivalueamerica (anonymous) says…

Berrypenders seems to forget that Stimulus was passed under Bush, the most failed President in American history because he created the worst economic disaster in this country since the Great Depression.

how is Bush the worst president in history, when his economic disaster wasn't the worst? I think that your opinion of Bush is skewed. This new feller in office is turning out to be a bigger turd than Mr. Bush.

Stuart Evans 5 years, 1 month ago

porch, i've told you before, and i'll tell you again. I'm not a conservative. I am atheist, I smoke weed, I don't hate gay people. However, I do see bullsh!t from a mile away.

ivalueamerica 5 years, 1 month ago


My opinion is shared by a majority of Americans and by most people around the world.

The most failed president in American History, George W. Bush.

meggers 5 years, 1 month ago


Surely you understand that a nation's economy does not change suddenly with the change of administration. We are dealing with the culminaiton of years of failed economic policy and unfunded mandates. That isn't entirely Bush's fault (I blame Clinton for much of the 'free' trade that has gutted our manufacturing base), but to blame Obama for this situation shows a lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

georgiahawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Poser, I think you are a little to early to make that call! I know that you conservatives desperately want to, but saying it doesn't make it any more true and it will not take away the failure of the conservative movement the last 8 years. Put your pants back on, you were premature again!

Stuart Evans 5 years, 1 month ago

trust me meggers, I understand that. and the stupid mistakes that Obama is making/trying to make now are going to screw our future generations significantly. I don't believe I said that the current economic disaster is entirely Obama's fault. Just like our foreign policy problem isn't entirely Bush's fault. see how that works.

Vertigo, I can hardly stomach an entire reading of Pitts. He offers up Goldwater as the Democratic version of fear. I offer up anyone who had anything to do with the communist scare, the federal reserve, alcohol and marijuana prohibition, etc. There is plenty of fear-mongering to go around. I wanted to enlighten those who believe it's a Repub. tactic.

Porch, I know you didn't ask about those things. But as far as I can tell, those are the primary talking points which determine who is/isn't a conservative. You assume I am any time that I mention Bush in a less than murderous tone.

monkeyspunk 5 years, 1 month ago

I think the key to this article that most are either missing or are flat out ignoring because it is LPJ, is that everyone uses fear to manipulate the population, its just never been so blatant that it was on a powerpoint document for a political party. do not be fooled. Labels are just labels, they are all the same when you break it down.

Conservatives, don't trust the individual. That is what I consider a conservative. They cling to the establishment, to elite leadership, and old institutions. Change is bad, status quo good. Modern Democrats and Republicans are ALL conservatives by this definition.

Because of this inherent distrust of the the individual, we get politics by fear. We get induced paranoia caused by rampant rumor and accusation. We get leaders saying that if we don't do something, disaster will strike. We are made to fear everything that is different or strange, not because they are dangerous because they threaten the status quo. They try to make us afraid of the other party, because they are evil. so they lie. And when the new boss takes over, what is evil is quickly changed.

From bailouts to illegal wiretaps to rendition to warfare, everything and anything that is evil can be justified if you make the populace afraid enough.

I share Pitts' frustration. A country that has accomplished more in 200 years than pretty much any country on earth is now ran by shepherds who constantly remind the sheep of the wolves that aren't there.

itwasthedukes 5 years, 1 month ago

The bailout "Troubled Asset Relief Program" was passed under Bush not the stimulus and that is when Bush and the Country took a huge wrong turn.

gogoplata 5 years, 1 month ago

Both parties try to use fear. At least he is half right.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

"Same old song, the three g's: gays and guns and gods are at the heart of the R's efforts to remake society. Fear is what effectively ties all this together."

Exactly anything that will distract voters from the matters such as the bankrupt economies the republicans seem to love and leave behind :

Is there a definite pattern? Absolutely!

  1. The Reagan/ Bush Home Loan Scandal http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

  2. The Bush/Cheney Home Loan Scandal http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

This type of activity needs investigated: http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0208-05.htm http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4120/we_arm_the_world/

Now the USA government is loading up the Saudi Arabia dictatorship up with tons of weapons. Which is kind of dumb knowing the impact big time weapons has had on the violent Israeli government.

Saudi Arabia has plenty of oil money perhaps they should take care of themselves.

Bring the troops home from all of the mideast!!!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

The repub economic philosophy:

Beware: TABOR Is Coming After devastating government services in Colorado, the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" threatens to spread.



jbiegs 5 years, 1 month ago


My opinion is shared by a majority of Americans and by most people around the world.

The most failed president in American History, George W. Bush.

Lets see who the majority of American think is the most failed president in 3 years! LOL We may have a new champ.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 1 month ago

4125 wrote: "The primary reason that political discussion is so inane these days - everyone has their own "definition", and a whole lot of folks are busy morphing new definitions for the old labels - without regard (or with malicious intent) to further obfuscate the real issues. Not really 'Newspeak', but 'Newbabble'."

Ok, smart guy. What are your definitions of liberal and conservative that evryone else has so wrong.

Be specific. Nut up or shut up, Compensator!

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 1 month ago

4125, I think I see fecal matter on the barrel of that rifle. Just what ARE you compensating for?

jumpin_catfish 5 years, 1 month ago

Both parties use fear and always have because Americans are dumb sheep.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

Wow, merrill, we've not seen that set of links in at least a couple of days. Everybody will surely pay attention to them this time!

Ricky_Vaughn 5 years, 1 month ago

We're all a bunch of dirty, stinkin' terrorists.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

Why did this thread take a sudden turn into the 19th Century?

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

"Sure Ag, anyone who criticizes Saint Lincoln is only doing so because because they have an agenda to push"

Except that you do have an agenda to push, that you've deified as much as any religeophile, and you've proven time and again that you only think up to what confirms your agenda, and anything else is "absurd" or "not based in reality". Virtually every regular on here, at this point, knows that this is the truth.

camper 5 years, 1 month ago

OK speaking of fear. Anyone remember Joe the Plumber? My taxes were lower as a % of my AGI (albeit slightly) on my 2009 return. Now, if your taxes went up, please state so honeslty.

Maybe we can do this again.....when we file two thousand and ten.

camper 5 years, 1 month ago

Still waiting for someone to say that their indiviidual taxes went up. Tell us if this is the case. Remember this is what the Republicans warned of.

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

"I think outside the box, you follow the herd. You more than anyone here follow the herd."

Keep telling yourself that.

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

camper: I've been doing taxes at a firm for the last three months, and there have been at least 5 people (all 50-80k) who have indeed simply had to pay more in taxes than they did last year. Hope that helps.

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