Hillary Clinton is getting a bum rap in recent days from both sides of the political spectrum at the moment for her remarks to the effect that another terrorist attack like 9/11 in the run-up to the next presidential election would help the Republicans.
It appears that many on the liberal side of the spectrum are accusing her of conceding that the Republicans somehow “own” the terrorism issue, and are the only party that can keep us safe. Meanwhile, at least one conservative goofball — Faux News’ John Gibson — is suggesting that by making these remarks, Hillary is trying to make a deal with the terrorists — essentially, that she is saying, “Hey, Bin Laden — lie low until after November 2008 and you won’t have any of those nasty scary Republicans to deal with. Instead, you’ll have a nice Democrat who will give you a free pass.”
In fact, all Hillary is guilty of doing is recognizing the reality of the situation.
As I have already discussed elsewhere in this blog, research in terror management theory (some of it funded by the Department of Homeland Insecurity) has demonstrated that when people are reminded of death — in psychspeak, when they are placed in a condition of mortality salience — most tend to retreat into more conservative political views and endorse more conservative, charismatic and/or authoritarian candidates.
Bluntly speaking, at the present time, in the United States, these candidates seem to be showing up more often on the right side of the political spectrum. Republican candidates are more likely to hammer the themes of traditional values and, at least in recent years in the neo-conservative branch of the party, a very strong central executive.
Bush has been a huge offender in this regard: he has done more to expand executive authority beyond the intent of our country’s founders than any president in recent memory. And Bush has been very savvy in his use of fear for political purposes. I know of at least one study that links his win in the 2004 election to his repeated hammering of the 9/11 drum.* Many of his political maneuvers that have expanded the power of the executive branch or narrowed or destroyed our civil liberties have been directly tied to his asserted need for such powers to protect us from the terrorists, bringing us to the point where it is very difficult for me to say who I fear more: the terrorists, or our own government.
The current Republican candidates are no better: Giuliani is expressly campaigning on a 9/11 platform, and Romney has said he wants to double the size of Guantanamo. Don’t even get me started on Tancredo.
So don’t get on Hillary’s case for recognizing the reality of the situation. A terrorist attack in the run-up to 9/11 the presidential election likely would help the Republicans. Many of the Republican candidates know this — that is why they are emphasizing it so much. The Department of Homeland Security has funded a number of studies in the field of terror management theory in the years since 9/11, and the Republican political leadership is aware of the results of those studies — I know for a fact that some of the university professors doing the research have briefed very highly placed military and civilian officials in the government on the outcomes of those studies.
We need to wake up to the reality that certain politicians are using our fears of terrorist attacks to manipulate us. Hillary gets my thanks for pointing this out in a larger venue than this tiny blog.
* The study is in a proprietary academic database, so I can’t post a link to it here, but if you are interested in obtaining a copy, send me an e-mail and I will be happy to send you its citation, or check the references listed at the end of this post.