Something in a comment I got last night made me fear that one of my major concerns/points in my previous posts on the subject of terror management theory was not coming across clearly, so I thought I’d take another stab at it.
My hope, in writing about terror management theory and its implications, is that by educating others about it I can help reduce its effectiveness as a tool of manipulation. I do not mean to imply that the threat of terrorist attack is not a legitimate one, nor am I deluded enough to believe that awareness of the theory will insulate people against its effects if, heaven forbid, another event of the magnitude of 9/11 were to occur at some time in the future. Rather, I seek to ameliorate its effects as a tool of political manipulation by our own leaders and voices in the media and blogosphere.
I fear some may also misinterpret my intent in making certain named and unnamed Republicans the villains of the piece. I do not believe that all, or even many, Republicans are evil. I know and respect many people who have been lifelong Republicans, even though I frequently disagree with them.
I have two main reasons for making Republicans the villains of the piece when I ventured into Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Land in yesterday’s posts. The first is that, as I already indicated, I believe that Bush, Cheney, Rove, and their ilk are already using the principles of terror management theory consciously and deliberately to manipulate the public, and that it would therefore be a much shorter trip for them to make the jump from merely hammering on 9/11 and the terrorist threat in speeches to manufacturing a situation that looked like a real terrorist threat of far more serious magnitude than pizza delivery guys attacking Fort Dix or a plot by intermitently homeless immigrants to blow up JFK airport by igniting jet fuel storage tanks miles away from the airport – particularly when something as serious as the next major national elections were at stake.
The second reason I chose to make the Republicans the villains of the piece is because, given the current political situation, I believe that they are the party most likely to benefit from such an attempt. The general public is very annoyed with our beloved president at that moment, and that annoyance has been transformed into much stronger support for Democratic Party candidates – we already saw some of this last November. By the time the next federal election rolls around, we will in all likelihood be another two years into the catastrofuck that Iraq has become, and may be at war on other fronts if Bush follows through on his saber rattling. (And by the way, has anyone else wondered how exactly he plans to back up those threats, given the current, over-extended state of our military? I can think of only two options: reinstituting the draft about six months ago, or using at least “tactical” nukes (if not the really big ones) to bomb Tehran into the stone age – a move that would probably be the kiss of death for our country on an international scale, completely alienating our few remaining allies and uniting everyone in the Middle East against us. But I digress.) The point being, the Republicans are the ones who would most need some sort of major attack on U.S. soil to turn public opinion their way in time to change the outcome of the election.
I also want to point out that even when I ventured into Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Land, I did not go so far as to think that Rove and Cheney, or any other members of my hypothetical evil back room cabal would actually plot a real attack against U.S. civilians. I frankly do not believe that they would do that – I cannot believe that, because if it were true, the implications for our democracy would be unthinkable. In my second scenario (the one where a nuclear weapon was actually detonated in downtown Los Angeles), they just made the mistake of seeking help in carrying out their attempt to scare voters from individuals with a hidden agenda who did want to kill a lot of innocents. Big difference.
Although there have been studies showing that mortality salience tends to make people in the aggregate (though not in all individual cases) more likely to support more charismatic and/or authoritarian candidates and policies, such politicians could theoretically arise in either party – though I tend to believe authoritarianism is more compatible with a Republican worldview than a Democratic one, at least as the two parties seem to be expressing their views through policies of late. [Addendum: I will acknowledge that this belief could be a side effect of my own biases, which are decidedly on the liberal end of the political spectrum. Except that I really don’t think that’s the case.]
And here is a big news flash for those who think that I am so blinded by my own political views that I would continue to follow a Democratic candidate using fear tactics to sway voters: if such a candidate did exist, and I became aware of him or her using such tactics the way certain Republican politicians and commentators are at present, I would call him or her to task for it, as well. It is the emotional manipulation and scaring of voters for political gain that I am objecting to here. I have targeted Republican politicians because they have been the ones blatantly engaging in this sort of behavior in recent years.
As I said in response to a comment last night, it is my hope that if members of the public are educated about terror management theory, they will become more conscious of deliberate attempts by politicians of either party attempting to use emotional manipulation to obtain votes, and thus better able to resist such attempts. Politicians of both parties really ought to be focusing on the issues facing our country at the moment in the course of their campaigning – and to their credit, many of the current crop of presidential candidates in both parties seem to be attempting to do just that. (Well, except for Giuliani, who can’t shut up about 9/11 – though that is perhaps understandable since it is public perception of his performance in the aftermath of that catastrophe that is keeping him viable against the other Republican frontrunners among likely Republican primary voters.)
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.