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I say jaw-dropping, but really, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see a few more moderate Republicans follow in his footsteps.
With McCain’s resounding loss in November, the Republican Party has been lacking a clear voice and leader, leaving it increasingly vulnerable to the rantings of the more extreme elements within it.
People like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. And let us not forget the extremely scary Newt Gingrich.
And the visibility of those more extreme voices further marginalize the party, causing more and more moderate Republicans to abandon their party for independent or democratic status.
Meanwhile, no matter how much the Faux News people want to holler about socialism, Obama has if anything brought the Democrats closer to the middle than they were before (something that pisses off liberals like yours truly, but whatever).
Given the apparent public distaste for the extreme positions currently adopted by many high-profile Republicans at the moment, one is forced to wonder about the logic of the proponents of such positions.
I have my own theory about this. Regular readers of this blog will not be at all surprised to learn that it relates to terror management theory. But I will save that speculation for a subsequent post … check back in a day or so for that.
Meanwhile, in other news, I think the Department of Justice should open a war crimes investigation into the activities of the Bush administration. Just sayin’…
Ah, the beauty of being in a state that allows early voting. No waiting in long lines next Tuesday for your humble correspondent. Which is just as well, because barring any unforeseen disasters, I will be driving to Chicago on election day to visit a friend and – assuming the election goes as current polls suggest it will – to be at ground zero for Obama victory celebrations.
No, I haven’t forgiven him yet for his vote on the FISA reauthorization. But I still voted for him, and I still want him to win.
The alternative seems unthinkable to me.
I honestly do not know that our country would survive even four years of a McCain presidency, considering our current sorry circumstances after eight years of alleged president George W. Bush’s mishandling of literally every matter that crossed his desk. To say nothing of the nightmare that might ensue if McCain died or became otherwise incapacitated (I still think he is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease) and Scary Palin took over running the show.
In spite of my ongoing fears that there will be some sort of terrorist attack in the coming days by someone seeking to influence the election in favor of John McCain (fears that the recent story about a call for terrorist groups to cause such an attack for just that purpose on a pro-al Quaeda website, did absolutely nothing to ease — honestly, who knew that al Quaeda would have a preference for a McCain/Palin presidency over an Obama presidency?), at this point, I do not believe that such an attack would actually be sufficient to swing the election in McCain’s favor.
Let me say that again, in case any terrorists (foreign or domestic) are actually reading this and got confused by that long sentence and the even longer parenthetical in the middle of it:
At this point, I do not believe that a terrorist attack would be sufficient to swing the election in favor of John McCain.
That window of opportunity has now closed, in my opinion. I don’t know if I could pinpoint the exact moment it slammed shut, but it has definitely done so now.
Back when the race was closer – before the economic meltdown and the McCain campaign meltdown that more or less coincided with it – there was a good chance that a terrorist attack would have swung the election in his favor enough to make a difference. I have explained elsewhere in this blog (over and over again) about why the principles of terror management theory and the research supporting that theory would make such a change in election outcome possible or even likely.
And even now, an attack would likely sway some voters who are still on the fence into McCain’s column. Just as the race-baiting and fear tactics that we have seen so much of from the Republican campaign likely have already swayed some particularly fearful voters.
But I do not think that an attack – even a very large one, even a nuclear attack on a major city – would be enough to persuade voters that McCain was in any way temperamentally suited to handle such a crisis.
Not after the way McCain responded to the economic crisis.
Not after the way the McCain campaign has repeatedly changed tactics and contradicted itself over the past few weeks.
Not after the way that McCain, Palin, and other members of the McCain campaign have repeatedly been revealed to have committed the very same sins they seek to smear Obama with, often to a far greater degree.
Not since the outcome of the Troopergate investigation, which has caused even Republican party loyalists to question McCain’s judgment in his decision to make her his running mate, and has even cause a few of said loyalists to actually endorse – or at least tacitly suggest that they plan to vote for – Barack Obama.
Not since it was revealed that the campaign that has repeatedly tried to paint Barack Obama as an elitist who is out of touch with the American public spent over $150,000 of the Republican campaign budget – money donated by party supporters under the assumption that it would be used to fund advertising – on the Empress’s new clothes.
Not now that McCain campaign insiders have taken to refering to Sarah Palin as “a complete whack job” and “a diva” who has “gone roque” in their comments to the press.
Not since it was revealed that Indiana employees of a robocalling firm walked off the job en masse the other day rather than read the Republican-prepared script smearing Obama over the phone to Indiana voters.
Let there be no doubt about it: not only have the wheels come off the Straight Talk Express, but so have the axles, the transmission, the exhaust system, and various other vital engine parts.
And as much as the pundits and politicians may assume otherwise, the American public does not consist entirely of uneducated morons. And even most of those with less education are smart enough to see that the McCain campaign is a campaign not only without a plan for responding to the various crises that currently face our country, but it is a campaign without even a coherent strategy for winning the election in order to attempt to take on those problems.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has continued to take the high road (for the most part, at least) – refusing to be persuaded to openly badmouth either McCain or Palin in the press, speaking instead (again, for the most part) only about differences between the two campaigns plans for the country and their respective abilities to respond to crises. Members of the campaign have not panicked, and are not badmouthing either Obama or Biden (or other members of the campaign team) in the press, and are continuing to work hard to ensure an Obama victory next week.
Obama continues to take his measured approach to responding to questions from the press. He has demonstrated an ability to be thinking about and responding to multiple issues simultaneously. And he has not once, to my knowledge, lost his cool during any of that. Sure, there’ve been a couple of times where he has clearly appeared frustrated by the differences in press treatment of the two campaigns – especially during a couple of the debates. But he has remained cool under pressure, has not made faces when his opponent was speaking, and has stuck to his message – a message that has remained consistent over the course of the entire campaign, not one that changes with the weather.
Of course, none of this is enough to persuade diehard Republican loyalists to vote for Obama. What would be? There are always and have always been members of both parties who would sooner cut off useful parts of their anatomy than consider voting for a candidate from the other party – particularly in presidential races. There likely always will be such voters.
But for most of the voters who describe themselves as independents (with the notable exception of Bill O’Reilly, who, let’s face it, is about as independent as Puerto Rico), the difference between the two major candidates is clear, and those that have taken the time and trouble to listen to what both candidates have to say are showing a lot of concern about what they are hearing coming out of the McCain camp. And with each day that passes, it seems that a larger chunk of those independent voters have made the decision to support Obama.
And I do not believe that a terrorist attack at this point in the race would be sufficient to change that, or to assuage voters’ concerns about the chaos they are seeing in the McCain campaign.
So in spite of being both a Democrat and a Cubs fan, I am actually feeling less and less certain that the Democrats will find a way blow this thing between now and next Tuesday. Though of course, I suppose the election could still be stolen. Sort of like the last two presidential elections…
That’s it for now, my friends. I have to hit the road. I have a long drive ahead of me today.
NB: I start this post off with a fairly long and rambling recollection of my memories of 9/11/2001. If you don’t want to read this (and I won’t fault you if you don’t), please consider scrolling down to the asterisks, where I actually start talking about political stuff that may interest my regular readers. -jd
It was an awful day, a day I and many – most – others wandered through in a sort of state of shock.
I was living in California at the time, still working as a lawyer. The first plane hit one of the towers just before my alarm clock went off that morning, The drive-time DJs chattered on as usual about nonsensical matters I can mercifully no longer remember, unaware of the unfolding tragedy until the woman who gave the traffic reports joined them on the air a few minutes later and told them to turn on a TV if they had one in the studio.
I turned my own TV on immediately, and thus had the dubious honor of watching the second plane hit the other tower as it was happening.
I stumbled around my apartment that morning, somehow getting ready for work, largely on autopilot, in shock. My brother called from Colorado. Was I planning on going to the office? Yes, I said. I had a meeting scheduled about a contract I was working on, I had to at least go in to see if it was still happening.
I was a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t supposed to react to emotional events the way other humans do, because lawyers aren’t supposed to be human, to suffer human weaknesses. I never got my emotional circuits disconnected (nor do most lawyers), but I often felt like I was obligated by my status to act as if I had – like many other lawyers did that day.
My brother was worried, because I worked in a tall building. Not the tallest in the city I was living in at the time, not by a long shot, but it was a crazy day, and no one was thinking logically. I certainly wasn’t. The biggest mass murder in our country’s history and I was putting on a suit and acting like I could ride out a day at the office.
It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but the truth is, I didn’t know what else to do. I lived alone, and had only recently moved to this city, so I didn’t have any close friends close by. My family was half a continent away. Practically the only people I knew locally were my co-workers. I think that’s the real reason why I went to work – I didn’t want to be alone on that horrible day, watching the news coverage by myself.
Probably only about a third of our staff showed up for work that day, mostly people with urgent meetings or people who like me didn’t think they were allowed (by whatever entity it is that allows these things) to take the day off. No work actually happened, at least as far as I saw. We congregated in a conference room where the head of our department had set up a television. Someone brought in a tray of bagels and a thermos full of coffee, which were largely ignored by everyone present. As if we could have eaten on that day.
We were all mentally or literally going through our rolodexes, trying to figure out if anyone we knew was likely to have been in one of the towers. I was one of the lucky ones – no one I knew, at least that I could think of at the moment, was likely to have been in either of the towers that day, though I did know several people who worked in one of the buildings across the street from the towers.
A co-worker – one of the ones who did not show up at the office that day – was not so lucky. Her mentor from a firm she had worked for earlier in her legal career was at a breakfast meeting in the restaurant that was on the top floor of one of the towers. He was among the missing.
We sat in the conference room, speaking in low voices, watching the scraps of news as they came in. Praying silently for the safety of people that we knew. Praying for all the people we didn’t know – the missing, and the people who would be missing them.
Every now and then, someone’s cell phone would ring, and the phone’s owner would walk quickly out into the hallway outside the conference room to take the call away from the rest of us. Sometimes, the news was good – someone they knew had received confirmation that someone else they knew was okay, was safe at home, was out of town, had taken a later flight, was not among the missing. Sometimes the news was less good – there were lots of reports of unanswered calls to mobile phones, or reaching answering machines at the homes of friends, or of not being able to get through to New York numbers at all.
By noon, I had had enough of pretending to work. I walked home from my office, got out of my lawyer costume and into comfy sweats, and started calling every single friend and family member I could, all over the country, trying to make sure that people were okay, trying to reassure myself that the world was not ending. And by and large, the news from my circle of friends and acquaintances was good.
There were some near-misses, though. A family friend who works in investment management and retirement planning was supposed to be flying from the west coast to New York to meet with some people from Cantor Fitzgerald that evening. His flight was canceled before it had a chance to board. The people he was scheduled to meet with were all among the missing. Another friend was a regular on one of the flights from Boston to LA that was hijacked. In other weeks he might have been on the plane, but something had caused his schedule to change that week.
The day passed slowly, with information trickling out in small bits between the endless replaying of the videos of the second crash and of each tower collapsing. Wild rumors circulated, and were duly reported by the media, albeit with strong caveats that they were unconfirmed rumors, because actual information was scarce.
It quickly became too painful to listen to the reporters, so I muted the television and started going through my CD collection, looking for music that might bring some comfort. John Lennon’s Imagine destroyed me – I listened to it twice, and cried for the lives lost. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was very cathartic, as well. I tried listening to Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica – my favorite of the nine – but quickly abandoned it as inappropriate to the mood of the day. Ditto a Mozart concerto. I finally settled on the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions with the volume turned down low. The entire album has a very mournful sound to it, sad and soothing, something that could be listened to without fear of offending the souls of those who lost their lives that day.
As night fell, I lit candles in my apartment, in the spirit of hope that more who were currently listed as “missing” would turn up alive and well. I brewed chamomile tea, which I sweetened with too much honey and sat on my bed staring at the TV, half-listening to the Cowboy Junkies, and wondering vaguely what could possibly drive people to fly airplanes into buildings.
At some point, I fell asleep, lights still on, music still playing, TV still flashing endless loops of planes crashing and towers falling.
A new day dawned, and the entire world had changed.
* * *
You may wonder why I’m writing about all this. My story of that day seven years ago is not dramatic, and it’s not as if anyone who was alive and aware of the world around them at the time of the attacks couldn’t tell a similar tale.
In truth, it is not what I had intended to write about when I sat down at my computer. But these were the words that came out, and I let them, because I feel it is appropriate to honor the memory of that day, as horrible as it was, and to honor the lives lost there – particularly the sacrifice by those who were trying to rescue others caught in the inferno of the towers before they fell, and the lives of the people on flight 93, who, having heard what happened with the other hijacked planes, fought back against their hijackers and prevented their plane from being used as a fourth weapon of horror at the cost of their own lives. Likewise, it is appropriate to honor the suffering of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11th.
Moments of silence, flags flown at half mast, prayers and religious services are all appropriate tributes to the losses suffered on that horrible day. Likewise the haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes or a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful.
These are the things that civilized people do when faced with such a tragedy.
What civilized people do not do, is to use the memory of that horrible day and the lives lost on it to score political points.
Yet today, we are seeing exactly that from the Republican party.
Last week, they showed that appalling 9/11 “tribute” video as part of the run-up to John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The video was apparently sprung on the cable news networks covering the convention without warning, and without the opportunity to screen it prior to its airing.
It was graphic and jingoistic, and it was clearly designed not to honor the memory of the lives lost or the heroic efforts of those who worked feverishly to rescue people from the rubble of the collapsed towers, but rather to inflame the worst aspects of the American public’s memory of that horrible day.
Worse still, it attempted to tie the attacks to Iran – a nation that had no part in planning the attacks – and to reinforce the idea that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were also somehow involved in their orchestration, despite no evidence to support this notion and massive evidence to the contrary. But tying Iran and Iraq to 9/11 serves the political agenda of certain people in the upper echelons of the Republican party (and, let us not forget, the agenda of the corporate interests and radical religious groups supporting certain GOP candidates).
Minutes after it aired, Keith Olbermann was apologizing to MSNBC viewers for the inappropriate nature of that video. And last night, he rightly castigated the Republican party leadership for the showing of the video in one of his excellent special comments.
Unfortunately, it seems we can expect many more actions of this nature from certain groups backing McCain and the Moose Killer over the next few months.
According to Denise Dennis, writing at the Huffington Post:
This past Sunday, in presidential-election swing states across the country, the New York Times came bundled with a dvd of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a controversial film on the threat Islamic terrorism. The documentary is set for release to retail outlets this week — the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — but has been shown at college campuses for nearly a year now, presented largely by Jewish student organizations and as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the national “conservative campus protest” organized and sponsored last fall by conservative author David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.
As it happens, I find myself in possession of a copy of this DVD. I did not buy it, though it lists a manufacturer’s recommended price on the front cover. Apparently, someone thinks it is worth $19.95, though I would disagree with that appraisal.
The copy I have was pressed into my hands by an earnest-looking young woman on a Denver street corner two weeks ago during the Democratic convention. She said something about it being about the distinction between peace-seeking Muslims and terrorists. I thanked her for it and shoved it in my bookbag without much thought or attention at the time. It remained in a stack with all the other political literature and similar offerings that I picked up as I wandered around the convention venue until last night, when I saw Ms. Dennis’s story on Huffington Post and the movie’s title rang a bell in my memory.
I have now watched the first forty minutes of the one hour video. That was enough.
More than enough, actually.
It is a piece of propaganda, plain and simple. Like the 9/11 “tribute” video from the RNC, it is designed to reawaken the public’s fear off terrorism. It displays graphic images of people injured in terrorist attacks. It shows maps with ominous x’s at the locations of various events. And it shows clips of various men in Muslim attire, with subtitles full of scary threats against the west, and particularly against America.
The video purports to distinguish between most followers of Islam, who are as horrified by the terrorist tactics used by al-Qaeda as the rest of us, and the radical Islamists who actually support or engage in terrorist acts. In reality, what it does is paint the Muslim religion as a threatening “other”, both opposed and a threat to “our way of life.” It blatantly states that Muslim people will say one thing when non-Muslims are present, and another thing when only believers are present – thus, by implication, no Muslim person can be trusted, because you can’t tell the radicals from the non-violent majority.
Someone has obviously spent a lot of money to make sure this DVD is widely circulated in swing states. The copy I have was presented in the standard DVD case, with a cover that looks like it was designed professionally like any other commercial DVD. I would assume the same can be said of the copies that were sent to the New York Times subscribers. According to the above-cited Dennis piece, the DVD “was bundled into newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.” Make no mistake. The distribution of this piece of political propaganda cost a fair chunk of change.
Why would someone go to this incredible expense?
It all comes back to fear, and to terror management theory.
As I have noted previously in this space, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have been shown to influence opinions expressed by voters on a variety of political issues, and on average to sway those opinions in the conservative direction.
The stronger the reminder about the threat, the greater the number of voters likely to be swayed by such tactics.
Certain Republicans want to set up Muslim citizens as the “other” in society, to be hated and feared, because it will give mainstream voters a visible threat to fear.
They are using graphic reminders of the attacks that occurred on this day seven years ago and the lives that were lost on that day as a means to accomplish this end.
They are doing it shamelessly and without apology.
There is a word for this sort of political tactic.
It is obscene.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, obscene means “objectionable or offensive to accepted standards of decency.” It then goes on to further define the term in primarily sexual contexts, which is how that term is usually interpreted in the legal arena. But the first sentence of the definition certainly applies to this tactic, so I will use the term obscene to describe it.
The people who lost their lives seven years ago today deserve better treatment than to have their deaths turned into a political tool. The people who lost friends and loved ones seven years ago deserve better. The American public deserves better.
And yet, as appalling as it is, there are politicians, corporations, and religious groups who are foisting this obscenity onto the American public, and who will continue to do so between now and November, all for the sake of winning a presidential election – an election which they in no way deserve to win after the horrible catastrofuck resulting from the past eight years of Republican “leadership.”
I cannot begin to describe how angry this makes me.
Mere words cannot suffice. I could paint you a picture, but I don’t think I have enough cadmium red or alizarin crimson – indeed, there may not be enough of either pigment in the world to convey my anger about the cynical use of our memories of 9/11 as a means to a political end by people who want to see John McCain elected in November.
Instead, I will leave you with this. It’s another Roy Zimmerman song, about someone else who tried to use 9/11 in a semi-political, semi-religious context:
…for calling the Republicans on the appalling use of that 9/11 “tribute” for political purposes. –jd
A few days ago, I wrote about my fears that some sort of terrorist attack would be staged yesterday by people wishing to manipulate the public and Congress to further their own ends. I was actually quite on edge all day yesterday, expecting something to happen.
I’m really glad I was wrong.
I still think it is likely that we will see either an actual attack or a very scary plot that is successfully foiled in a very high profile way sometime before the election, if McCain continues to trail Obama in the polls. I think the Republicans will need something to put a good scare into the American public if they want to have any hope of heading off the Obama express in November. And I think Bush wants an excuse to start a war with Iran. An attack or near-attack would help on both those fronts.
As I’ve said before, I’m not accusing the Republican party or any particular politicians of anything here. There are a lot of interests outside of the government (technically, anyway) that might set something up to ensure that things go the way they want them to, though. Big corporations like Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. (Talk about an axis of evil.) And there are others as well. For instance, has anyone looked at how the Saudi economy has been doing lately, with all the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan? Weren’t most of the 9/11 hijackers Saudi?
As we get closer to the election, I will probably start sounding increasingly paranoid again. Sorry about that. I’m just not going to be able to really relax completely until the current criminal in chief is out of office.
As far as other things I mentioned in my earlier post, I did go out for that drive into the countryside last night. (Recreational driving – that’s something that’s sure to become a thing of the past, with current gas prices. But sometimes, I just need to go somewhere, you know?) The corn in the fields around Redstatesville is green with almost glossy leaves right now, and it looks to be an excellent crop, based on my limited (okay, completely non-existent) knowledge of agriculture.
Turns out, though, I couldn’t really see the stars last night. Other things made up for it, and I’ll get to those in a moment, but first I just have to say this:
Apparently farmers are completely insane.
Maybe it’s the fertilizer, or all those pesticides they work with, but those guys are nuts. (This could actually explain a lot about local voting patterns, now that I think about it. But I digress.)
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:
So here I am, tooling along a little two-lane road in Middleofnowhere County (which is the next county over from Redstatesville, where I live) in my much-abused ten-year-old Saturn, thinking, “Okay, I’m far enough from the city lights to do some serious stargazing. It’s almost completely dark out, I’ll just find a wide spot in the road to pull over so I can get out and look up at the sky.”
All of a sudden, there’s this big fireburst off to the right side of the road ahead.
Someone is lighting off fireworks out there in the middle of all that corn.
And I’m thinking, “Are these guys nuts?! Are they trying to start a fire and take out their whole crop?”
Then I look around and realize that they’re not the only ones shooting fireworks up into the sky. No, there are a good six or seven other people/groups out here in Middleofnowhere doing exactly the same thing.
Crazy, I tell you.
Of course, I grew up out on the west coast, in deepest, darkest suburbia, and don’t know much about crops. Out west, things are usually tinderbox dry at this time of year and fireworks are generally verboten except in a few specially designated areas, usually out over water. Maybe when the corn is this green, there’s not so much risk. I didn’t see any fires, so I guess they knew what they were doing.
It was pretty cool to watch, though. I’ll say that.
All around me, fireworks were going off in the night sky for about half an hour or so. And the fields were twinkling with fireflies, tens of thousands of them, flying around and blinking on and off like demented Christmas tree lights.
Smoke from the fireworks mostly blocked the stars, but all the other lights made up for it.
And aside from the occasional booms and pops from the fireworks, it was quiet. No politicians speechifying, no flag waving, no John Phillip Sousa.
Just a bunch of Americans, out celebrating the end of King George’s tyranny over the colonies, and the birth of our country.
Or maybe just getting a little drunk and making some noise, lighting up the night sky. That works, too.
…if they really are out to get us?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering today, as I contemplate the current state of things in American politics.
There is a phenomenon in psychology known as habituation, in which an organism – human or animal – begins to ignore some stimulus in its environment that has been repeated over and over. After a certain point, the brain just tunes it out, and stops reacting even at the neurological level. Our nervous systems are set up to notice changes in the environment. Changes represent potential threats, or risks, or food sources, and they draw our attention quickly, while unchanging things are quickly filed and forgotten.
Say you bring home a new clock and put it on your mantle. When you first start it up, you notice the ticking sound made by the second hand as it moves in its circular route. But very quickly you become unaware of the noise unless you are deliberately attending to it.
Here’s another example: I live in the flight path of the Redstatesville airport. There are relatively few flights in and out of the airport each day, and once I had been living here for a while, I rarely noticed the planes anymore unless one passed by particularly low directly overhead. In the last few days, however, a helicopter has been flying around my neighborhood frequently, presumably because of its proximity to the airport. That, I notice. But if it becomes routine over the next few weeks, I’ll probably stop noticing it, as well.
People who live along train tracks experience a similar phenomenon, and wonder why their house guests never seem to get a good night’s sleep.
It kind of works the same way with warnings. Call it Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome: when a warning is repeated endlessly, and the event warned of never happens, the warning itself becomes meaningless chatter that gets filtered out as we go about our business.
When’s the last time you really listened to a flight attendant give the pre-flight safety speech? Do you actually look around the cabin to find the nearest exit before takeoff? I’m betting that for frequent travelers, the answer to those questions are, “Um, jeez, I don’t know,” and “No,” respectively.
Where am I going with this?
Well, as I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, I believe that the current administration has been using terror management theory to manipulate public opinion. Keith Olbermann has ably chronicled this in the series of reports he has done about the nexus of politics and terror, in which he recalls for us all the times that bad news affecting the Bush administration was followed, usually within a day or so, by press releases from the White House or the Department of Homeland Security about the terrorist threat. Increases in the threat level, the sudden reporting of uncovered and averted plots, that sort of thing.
And of course, the Republican Party’s beating of the 9/11 drum in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election was plain for all to see.
In the 2006 elections, they tried this strategy again, but it didn’t work for them so well that time. Partly because people were fed up with the ongoing Iraq war, and likely partly because of habituation.
People have simply heard the politicians talk about 9/11 so much that most people (though of course not all) now sort of tune them out and focus on other issues. Like the war, or the economy, or the huge laundry list of scandals perpetrated by this administration.
What does all this mean?
It means, quite frankly, that if the Republicans (and those interests that support them or benefit from their policies) want to continue to use fear successfully as a tool of political manipulation, they probably actually need another terrorist attack, preferably one on US soil. Something that makes a big boom, figuratively or literally.
This thought has been keeping me awake at night lately.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that this is a Republican party campaign strategy. I am not accusing anyone of treason. There has been no attack yet, and I have know knowledge of actual facts about any plot.
What I’m saying is, that it would only take a few people with knowledge of terror management theory’s implications to see what “needed” to be done and to arrange for it to happen.
You may, at this point, be thinking, “Wait a minute. This is all well and good, but so far I haven’t heard anything that would suggest that people high up in the current administration or the Republican party are even aware of terror management theory. Isn’t this just something a bunch of ivory-tower social psychologists like to jawjack about? Where’s your evidence that any of the people you are talking about know anything at all about this?”
Here’s the thing:
Since 9/11, there has been a major increase in government funding for terror management research. Much if not all of that funding comes through the Department of Homeland Security, and various military officers and DHS officials have been briefed on the findings by the very university professors who are conducting the research.
How do I know this? Ah, that would be telling. But some of it, at least, can probably be confirmed through public sources – particularly information about research grants that have been made to fund the research. As for the briefings claim, well…let’s just say I have my sources, and leave it at that for now.
You can see why I am losing sleep at night: I don’t think the terrorists are the only ones we have to fear.
Hell, I don’t even think the terrorists are the most dangerous threat at the moment.
What might motivate otherwise loyal Americans to orchestrate a “terrorist” attack on their own country?
Both of these are at stake, in huge amounts, at the moment.
My original mental doomsday scenario called for the attack to be a few weeks before the November election. Say, late September or early October.
But last night I got to thinking, what if manipulating the election results to ensure a favorable outcome weren’t your only goal?
What if you were trying to force measures further eroding our privacy and civil liberties through Congress?
What if you wanted an excuse to start bombing Iran?
Am I being paranoid?
We’re heading into a three-day weekend, a time when people will be pumped up with patriotic fervor. The day when we celebrate our country’s founding and the battle for our independence.
There will be all sorts of big events drawing thousands of people, all across the country. Baseball games, outdoor concerts, fireworks displays.
And large gatherings of people make really good targets for a terrorist attack.
Am I being paranoid?
I really, really hope so. Believe me when I say that nothing would make me happier than to be wrong on this.
I just hope that, if the worst does happen, if another attack does occur, that things will be a little different than they were after 9/11. That Congress won’t rush to sell out our remaining civil liberties, or allow us to be bulldozed into a war with Iran before the investigation into the attack is even finished. That the media will question the information being fed to them by those in power, instead of just mindlessly reporting it as truth. That whoever conducts the investigation looks not just at the Middle East, but also closer to home, when trying to establish the list of suspects and their motivations.
I think I’ll end on that cheerful note. Again, I really hope to be proven wrong in all of this. I’ll be really happy if on January 21, 2009, I’m writing a post about how I got all worked up over nothing.
As for this weekend, well, I don’t think I’ll be going to any baseball games, or large concerts, or fireworks shows. Maybe I’ll go for a drive out into the farmland surrounding us here in Redstatesville. See how the corn’s coming up. Get away from the city lights and lie on the hood of my car staring up at the sky, counting stars and dreaming of a world where I don’t feel the need to engage in the kind of paranoid speculation I’ve been doing here today.
Addendum: A new CNN poll out today (July 2) reports that “Americans’ concerns about terrorism have hit an all-time low for the post-September 11 era,” and goes on to say:
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday, 35 percent of Americans believe a terrorist attack somewhere in the United States is likely over the next several weeks.
The figure is the lowest in a CNN poll since the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
All of which ties in with my comment above about Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome. If Americans have become less concerned with the threat of another attack, then repeated comments about 9/11 and the threat of future attacks are less likely to have the kind of impact at the polls that they did in 2004.
I’m just saying…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you have most likely heard by now about the brouhaha surrounding McCain adviser and lobbyist (because apparently all McCain advisers are lobbyists) Charlie Black’s comment that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the coming months would likely help the McCain campaign. According to the article:
On national security McCain wins. We saw how that might play out early in the campaign, when one good scare, one timely reminder of the chaos lurking in the world, probably saved McCain in New Hampshire, a state he had to win to save his candidacy – this according to McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.” As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.
Black’s statement, and McCain’s relative lack of reaction to it, have been causing great consternation and discussion both in the mainstream media and here in teh internets. Keith Olbermann has covered the remark and its fallout for five nights running so far. The liberal blogosphere is all a-tizzy. People have been calling for Black to resign from McCain’s campaign, and/or for McCain to show him the door.
Some people have also been debating the accuracy of the assertion. Is it fair to say McCain wins on national security? Is he better than Barack Obama in this area? Frankly, I find that idea hard to accept, and it’s disturbing that so many in the mainstream media seem to take it as a given. I mean, the man doesn’t know Sunni from Shia, he gets confused over the fact that Iran and al Qaeda are not best buddies, and he sang “Bomb-bomb-bomb Iran” in a town hall meeting. Color me unimpressed.
But when it comes down to it, as much as it pains me to say this, whether McCain is better than Obama in any substantive way on national security matters is probably irrelevant. Because in all likelihood, Charlie Black is right on this:
McCain benefits if there is a terrorist attack in the US in the run-up to the election.
Go ahead and yell at the computer monitor for a minute if it makes you feel better, my dear non-existent readers, but then read the rest of what I have to say before you flame me in the comments that you never leave.
It all comes down to terror management theory.
I’ve written about this theory from the field of social psychology in the past, so I won’t go into a detailed explanation of it again here. See here for my original post describing some of the theory’s principles and its relevance in the political sphere (it’s a long post but it covers the basics and how they connect to the political realm generally), or click on the terror management category link in the left column of this blog.
Suffice it to say that research into the field of terror management has found that on average, people react in rather predictable ways when they are reminded of their own mortality.
Say, for instance, the way they are when there is a major terrorist attack like 9/11, or even when some Republican politician harps on 9/11 and the threat of terrorism over and over in his campaign speeches.
It’s called mortality salience by the psych researchers. Terror management research indicates that when people are put in a mortality salience condition, they are more likely to exhibit the following behaviors:
- They become more fearful of the “other” in society, and are more willing to express racist or stereotypical viewpoints.
- They retreat into more conservative values, and show reduced tolerance for differing views.
- They become more likely to support authoritarian policies.
- They become more likely to support candidates perceived as charismatic over those seen as intellectual (and by charismatic, I mean politicians who use the strength of their personality and “values”, as opposed to their positions on the substantive issues, to win voters).
Does any of this sound familiar? Say, 2004-ish?
Now look at some of the memes floating around on Faux News or in the talk radio realm and conservative blogosphere:
- The emphasis on using Obama’s middle name (Hussein)
- The constant “mistakes” where people say Osama when they mean Obama, or vice versa
- The whispered rumors that Obama is really a Muslim
- The talk of him being an elitist or a more intellectual candidate who may be “difficult for voters to relate to”
I submit to you that some people are consciously, deliberately setting Obama up as an “other” to be feared, as different, as not a real American. And I expect that the closer we get to the November election, the more frequently we will be hearing McCain and his surrogates beating the 9/11 drum, reminding us of the threat of future terrorist attacks.
They’re trying to raise mortality salience in the electorate. An actual attack on US soil, or even a very real looking threat of one that is somehow stopped, would certainly do a fine job of it.
The effect of mortality salience on a person’s behavior seems to be influenced by the strength of the stimulus that put him or her into that condition in the first place. That is, the bigger the stimulus, the greater the change in behavior as a result.
When a psychologist is conducting research in the field of terror management, there are limitations on the strength of the stimulus that can be used to put subjects into a mortality salience condition. One wouldn’t want to traumatize the research participants, after all. Thus, the people participating in the research are often just asked to think about the experience of death (e.g., death of a loved one), or to read a paragraph that talks about something related to death (people in the control condition are often asked to think about dental pain, instead). This sort of stimulus (or prime) is enough to produce statistically significant results, but generally doesn’t produce a very large effect size – that is, the difference between the control group and the experimental group in the study usually isn’t very big. Indeed, some participants’ behavior might not change measurably at all in such circumstances.
In contrast, people who have directly experienced something that reminds them of death – say, by witnessing a car bombing – may exhibit very marked changes in behavior consistent with the trends I mentioned above. People who would not be affected at all by just a spoken or written reminder of death may be deeply affected by a more traumatic experience, and changes in behavior across the population become more substantial.
Translating all of that into political terms, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of future terror attacks spoken by a political candidate or broadcast in the media probably wouldn’t change the voting behavior of a huge percentage of voters, but in a very close election, like for instance, the 2004 presidential election, it could sway enough voters to change the outcome. I am aware of at least one study that concluded that this did, in fact, happen.
In contrast, an actual terrorist attack on US soil, or even a credible one that was somehow thwarted, would probably have a much larger effect. Its impact in the voting booth could be huge.
Of course, many factors influence voters’ decisions, so it is difficult to gauge the impact of any single factor. Still, based on my reading of the research, it seems safe to infer that the bigger the boom, the bigger the change in the polling numbers.
Think I’m crazy?
Think back to the weeks and months following 9/11. A whole lot of people who were still very bitter about the 2000 election results suddenly fell into line supporting our alleged president after the attacks. American flags were flying off the store shelves. Bush’s approval rating soared, and Congress couldn’t give away our civil liberties fast enough in their desire to be seen as protecting us from the evil terrorists.
So yeah, I think Charlie Black is right. A terrorist attack on US soil would help the McCain campaign.
Would it be enough to swing the election?
That’s much harder to predict. Obviously many other events will occur between now and November that can change the two candidates’ standing in the public opinion.
And I think Obama’s campaign is focusing on some important themes that the research suggests can help counter the effects of the constant reminders of the terrorist threat that we are likely to hear from the McCain camp. Themes like the idea of Americans uniting and his faith in the strength of the American public.
Themes like hope, and change.
So I can’t say conclusively that a terrorist attack would change the results in November. But it would certainly heavily influence the levels of support for the two candidates, with McCain likely seeing a strong increase in his polling numbers.
You may think I’ve made a bad call by posting this information. Am I not giving the terrorists (or anyone else who might have an unhealthy interest in the outcome of the presidential race – say, businesses legitimate and not-so-legitimate that are making a killing in Iraq, pun very much intended) a roadmap for how to influence our elections?
I don’t think so. That ship has already sailed.
All of the research I’ve referred to here is available in any number of social psychology journals. Abstracts of all the articles I’ve read, summarizing their key findings, can be found in a number of online databases and search engines by anyone curious enough to look for them. This isn’t like publishing the designs for a nuclear device, or anything.
The bad guys aren’t stupid. They can google just as well as anyone else, I assure you.
Anyway, for those who would like to find out more, I’ve included a few references at the bottom of this post. I would post links, but the articles are all in proprietary academic databases that require a paid membership to access. Any friendly college student would probably be able to access copies of the articles from his or her school’s computers. The one book that’s listed (last item on the list) is actually available at Amazon.com.
Or just google terror management theory, and see what you come up with.
Note: I edited this post to add the very last sentence, which was inadvertently omitted. Sorry about the multiple posts, RSS readers.
Cohen, F., Ogilvie, D. M., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. (2005). American Roulette: The effect of reminders of death on support for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5, 177-187.
Cohen, F., Solomon, S., Maxfield, M., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2004). Fatal attraction: The effects of mortality salience on evaluations of charismatic, task-oriented, and relationship-oriented leaders. Psychological Science, 15, 846-851.
Landau, M. J., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Cohen, F., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., Miller, C. H., Ogilvie, D. M, & Cook, A. (2004). Deliver us from evil: The effects of mortality salience and reminders of 9/11 on support for President George W. Bush. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1136-1150.
Pyszczynski, T. (2004). What are we so afraid of? A Terror Management Theory perspective on the politics of fear. Social Research, 71, 827-848.
Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2003). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
A Florida paper (h/t to Wonkette) is reporting that one of its local battalions was “deployed” to Washington, D.C. to protect the capital against any air threat. Families are not going along with them, and are apparently only allowed limited opportunity to visit them, so this is not like a routine relocation of a unit. It reads more like they are being sent on a combat assignment.
I find this somewhat puzzling. I would have assumed we had troops routinely stationed at bases around D.C. for this sort of purpose and wouldn’t need to “deploy” a whole unit there in addition to those forces. Does anyone out there know whether this sort of thing is routine military procedure? I know our troops are stretched thin at the moment, but this still seems really weird, and I am just paranoid enough about the current administration to smell a rather large and odoriferous rat here…
At any rate, this does not change the fact that I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.