Addicted to Fear – Cowardice Has Become the Source of Republican Power

The Republican Party’s macho bluster and apparently endless appetite for war makes it seem counter-intuitive to think of them as cowards. And yet, seven years into the Bush regime, it is clear that the GOP has become dependent on fear to keep itself in power — and to support this addiction the party leadership has converted its rank and file members into America’s first generation of bona fide yellow-bellied chickens.

After the GOP took over the government in 2000 and ran all three branches for six years, the truth about the conservative movement was finally revealed. After years of unctuous claims that they were for family values and lower spending and against corruption, Republicans demonstrated that the exact opposite is true. They were caught engaging in a wide range of sleazy activities, both personal and financial, and Bush and the GOP Congress ran the Treasury into the ground, racking up more debt than all the presidents since Washington, combined. Now, with that record fresh in voters’ minds, all they have left to run on is the politics of fear.

Nearly every day, a subtle or not-so-subtle message of fear — about terrorists, Moslems, Iran, whatever works — is transmitted from the bully pulpit of the White House press room podium out to the public via the seemingly unwitting mainstream media, Fox News and rightwing talk radio. The government’s fear propaganda is mostly just noise in the background to normal people, but rank and file conservatives gobble it up like ravenous dogs.

9/11 Did Not “Change Everything”

The Republican culture of fear was born out of the 9/11 attacks — which we are told “changed everything” because they were an “attack on America.” But when the World Trade Center was bombed in February 1993 by rightwing Islamic terrorists very like the ones who would take the towers down eight years years later, no one suggested that our response to this “attack on America” should be invading and occupying Iraq.

The Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta July 1996 was an “attack on America” — albeit by an American rightwing Christian fundamentalist terrorist. But no one suggested that we should eavesdrop on Americans and torture prisoners as a result.

The Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, this time by another group of homegrown rightwing terrorists, was certainly an “attack on America” — in particular on a federal building and specifically targeting agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. No one suggested shredding the Constitution as a result.

For most of the century after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, a rightwing, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant terrorist group, attacked and killed Americans with guns, bombs and nooses. But during the first nine decades or so of this unrelenting reign of terror, hardly anyone seemed to mind very much, except of course for those who were the targets of the hatred and violence.

Around the globe, millions of people endure terror attacks without cowering under their beds. The Israelis have lived with terrorism since at least the 1970s — as have the Syrians, Lebanese, Saudis and others in the Middle East. The British stood stalwart against attacks by Irish separatists for generations. In just the past decade, terrorists have attacked in Colombia, Russia, China, Egypt, Mexico, Cuba, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pakistan, Latvia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Chechnya, Spain, Finland and on and on.

Only in the Bush era has it become acceptable for Americans to cower in fear at the same threat that others in the world face with courage or at least equanimity. Among democracies, only does the United States government deliberately encourage and inflame cowardice among its citizens.

The Soviets’ A-Bombs – Now That Was Scary

Up until about 20 years ago, Americans bravely shouldered on every day in the shadow of a much greater national threat than Islamic terrorists will ever pose. Here’s how Gen. Wesley Clark described it on Bill Maher’s HBO show last Friday:

This nation lived for 40 years under the threat of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Six thousand nuclear warheads [aimed at] every American city — would have destroyed … life in America.

Osama bin Ladin and these people — they’re crazy and they’re nuts. Maybe they want to kill Americans but they are not an existential threat to America. And they are no reason for Americans to give up their freedom and their liberty.

Other than fear so intense it has shut down rational thought — which can be described as cowardice — what could explain the Republicans’ willingness to be duped by Bush’s lies in the run-up to war: that Saddam, the secularist who was on Al Qaeda’s kill list, was part of the 9/11 conspiracy; that he had nuclear capabilities; that he might load drones onto ships and launch them at the U.S. off the Atlantic coast?

Other than having their brains dulled by terror, what could cause so many Americans to take at face value Bush’s facile construct that “we have to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here?” It should be abundantly obvious that nothing about our being in Iraq prevents terrorists from coming here. They have maps. They can get plane tickets. They can cross the border on foot. And they can do this while American occupation forces are strapped down in Iraq, dodging bullets in a sectarian civil war between opposing followers of Muslim leaders who died 14 centuries ago.

The whole thing would be laughable if the price in American blood and treasure was not so steep.

Normal People Put Their Fears in Perspective

Those of us who live in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, blizzards and floods find ways to cope with fear. Our mantra, in so many words, is “be prepared and hope for the best.”

Most of us don’t consider this rationalization of risk to be “bravery” — and, to be sure, our day-to-day moxie is nothing compared with the courage required of troops facing IEDs and insurgents’ bombs in Iraq or cops dodging bullets in American streets.

But, really, our sort of courage is no harder to come by than the courage it took to get up every day and go about life knowing that on this day, like every day, the Russians could could launch the bombs that would blow us into oblivion.

This mildest form of bravery — the ability to put exposure to risk in perspective and go about life in peace and contentment — is what every American, even Republicans, must learn to muster if, gods forbid, terrorism continues to be a part of life in the States.

Unfortunately, because of the policies and actions of George W. Bush — enabled and supported by his fear-addled supporters — the likelihood that terrorism will remain a fact of life in America is greater now than it would have been if Bush had not been president on September 11, 2001.


  • bernie
    October 30, 2007 - 1:23 pm | Permalink

    beautifully said! the fear-mongers should return to their holes.

  • angry_diane
    October 31, 2007 - 11:34 am | Permalink

    This is just one more example of the “dumbing” down of the American people – yes, we lived through the threat of the constant possibility that Russia would bomb us to kingdom come – and yet, no nukes ever came over to bomb us – WE are in the ONLY nation that HAS used a nuke – so by Bush & Co standards, WE are the terrorists – people need to wake up!!!!

  • November 1, 2007 - 4:43 am | Permalink

    Author Michael Lind made a similar observation in his book “Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeove of American Politics”.
    Lind explains that. far from being the rugged individualists of western cowboy legend, the dominate Texas ideology is that of the Southern neo-Confederate autocracy, with its clannish ideals of homogenaity, conformity, fear of outsiders, social stratification dominated by a ruthless plantation owning elite, who did not hesitate to use violence and terror to sustain cheap labor – and who maintained clan cohesion by inciting fear of rapists, criminals, and outside “do-gooders.” I can’t recall the exact page Lind speaks of the cowardice of this ideology, but it was the pyschology of the lynch-mob, where people could engage their savage violent streaks vicariously, or as part of a huge, overwhelming mob.
    (See for the extreme expression of this phenomena.) In Bush/Cheney’s torture and mercenary policies, we see a RETURN to that dismal era, when escaped slave hunters could search any home or farm with absolute impunity; and of course the torture, degredation, and murder of slaves and runaways was routine and commonplace.

  • bigString
    November 1, 2007 - 1:39 pm | Permalink

    While in St.Petersburg, having dinner with a professor of Russian history, I was asked why I was visiting Russia. I indicated that I wanted to meet Russian people and see what sort of lives they lead. I said “I am old enough to remember having to practice diving down under our desks at school because ‘the Russians’ could drop an atomic bomb on us at any minute.”

    The professor smiled and said “Did they teach you that the desk would protect you in such an event?” Before I could answer, he said “You might be interested to know that we used to practice diving under our desks as schoolchildren because we were taught the Americans would drop a bomb on us at any minute.”

    My theory was confirmed: Governments create fear as a tool to accomplish their goals. It is not distinctly American but it is an effective practice.

  • trank
    November 1, 2007 - 10:30 pm | Permalink

    the dynamic is tied to the need for certainty– conservatives have a stronger need for certainty—-fear is often extreme reaction to uncertainty–the stronger the need for certainty the lower the threshold at which uncertainty becomes fear–by raising levels of fear the leader who exudes certainty, no matter how irrational, becomes more attractive—

  • Fefe
    November 1, 2007 - 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Russians are white and Americans aren’t afraid of white people. The Russians could have wiped us off the map ten times and nobody panicked. Now that people who are darker than a penny seem to have some type of power, Americans are so scared that we will give up our freedoms. Quick! Name the only country who gave up their nuclear weapons. Give up? South Africa after apartheid.

  • Richard Rogstad
    November 1, 2007 - 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Get the book, “End of America.” It is chilling reading.

  • November 2, 2007 - 12:17 am | Permalink




  • ned
    November 2, 2007 - 3:13 am | Permalink

    “Keep those reporters talking about the war boys. We don’t want them getting bored and looking at these “no bid” contracts were making with our bidness friends and supporters.”

  • Salvatore DiChristina
    November 2, 2007 - 4:15 am | Permalink

    The former Marine from Cal. who is running for President and has little hope of attaining such a goal, chastised all those State Department Employees who are protesting being ordered to Iraq and suggested they be fired for lack of courage and send wounded soldiers to Iraq in their place. I would think this patriotic so and so would resign from Congress, give up his small hope of being president and offer to become a State Department employee in Iraq. That brave erstwhile soul who has no compunction about calling State Department employees cowards, bravely volunteers the wounded GI’s at Walter Reed, who have already injuriously survived the perils of Iraq, as he volunteered their journey into harm’s way at the onset of this war brought on by a bunch of lies that he considerably helped spread. Yes, Duncan Hunter, resign the Senate and volunteer to serve in Iraq as a State Department employee.

  • Alan Willis
    November 2, 2007 - 6:58 am | Permalink

    If the Republicans are cowards, what are the “let us know when we can cave in” Democrats?

  • November 2, 2007 - 7:43 am | Permalink

    re <>
    Ahh, Mr. Ponder, that is the million dollar question.. And, unfortunately, the answer is not a pleasing one to hear for millions of Americans. It is the alliance of the “serious” (as opposed to “extremist”) wings of the three major faiths in America today, the Protestants, Catholic, and Jewish hard-core (if not fundamentalist) clannish identities. It was 5 Catholic judges who voted to uphold Florida’s (Jeb Bush/Katherine Harris)voter disenfranchisment scheme (Florida law was very clear: “in event of an winning election margin of less than .5%, ALL VOTES SHALL BE RECOUNTED at request of losing candidate.”) The Catholic, ‘conservative’ judges on the USSC happily trampled this state law, and thousands of minority votes (and thereby millions of Democrat voters) to install their man in the White House. And every two years, the Vatican in Rome (a foreign government) spends millions of dollars in money & effort to influence American elections. NY Times columnist Wllm Safire got hot and stuffy about a $20,000 donation to Al Gore & Dem campaign in 1996 from a Buddhist temple here in America; but we collectively ignore the millions that the Vatican spends trying to criminalize abortion (and on other “religious” issues) here in America.

    #2. The Protestant “hard-core” who form the base of the Bush-Cheney-GOP – people such as Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, Kennedy, and Haggard (etc.) – also have a reactionary ideology that is not far removed from the bible-thumpers who defended first slavery, and then segregation. No one is calling them out on the clear and obvious similarities between their current dogma and the discredited racist-themed dogma of not too distant past. Which brings us to the “conservatives” in the Jewish faith. Author Michael Lind speaks of the “neo-Confederate takeover of American politics” that is the Bush-Cheney-Republican Party. He also details how the American Jewish community has ALLIED with the neo-confeds, i.e. the neo-conservative/neo-confederate alliance. While neo-Confederates are anti-intellectual (look at the 30-somethings law-school grads from Christian Universities that Bush stacked the Justice Deptartment with during “Purge-gate”, women who, contrary to 200 years of American jurisprudence, actually believed that if the president told them to do something, it was legal!), they are now close allies with neo-con Jewish intellectuals such as Wolfowitz (John Hopkins Intl. Studies chair), Perle, Fieth, Wurmser, Kagan, Kristol, Safire, Sulzberger, and other neo-con ‘deep thinkers.’ The New York Times (owned by the Jewish Sulzberger family) signed on to the neo-con/neo-Confederate alliance an entire decade before 9-11. They relentlessly helped Republicans amplify and exaggerate every charge against the Clinton Democratic White House (eg, “Lincoln bedroom ‘scandal’!” – as if the president of the United States can not invite guests to spend the night!), they pushed the “Whitewater” investigation of a routine real-esate flop into a $70 million Ken Starr Republican salvation, and they cheered madly when Mr. Starr jumped his prosecution from a financial investigation into a “Monica- did she, or didn’t she?” impeachment rally. Along the way, the NY Times helped make the impeachment of Bill Clinton more important than getting back at Osama bin Laden for the US embassy bombings in 1998, Clinton accused of “Wag the Dog” for going after bin Laden by every Republican within reach of a microphone (with the consent of the Times, Post, and network media)! (The book, “The Hunting of the President” by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, is practically a compilation of the Times’ and Post’s awful ‘reporting’ from this era.)

    Finally, in 2000, Joe Lieberman sealed the deal. By refusing to drop his senate campaign, he signaled to all America that he was not going to put his all into the Gore 2000 presidential campaign. Lieberman was fully signed on to the PNAC (which see) agenda to ATTACK IRAQ AT EARLIEST POSSIBLE MOMENT (see first two documents at that website), and he knew that that”ATTACK IRAQ” agenda WOULD come to fruition under a Bush-Cheney administration, and NOT under a Gore-Lieberman administration. Former Secretary of Treasury John O’Neill confirmed that “Iraq was priority one” at the Bush administration’s earliest cabinent meetings, as one would expect of and a cabinet and government led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, and other senior Bush admin. officials had signed that PNAC “attack Iraq at earliest” agenda in the PNAC manifesto. And today, AIPAC is the Bush administration’s biggest cheerleaders for the “bomb Iran” agenda, the March 2007 AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, literally standing and cheering for VP Cheney’s most bombastic “bomb Iran now” rhetoric.

    The Democratic Party, and US press/media, have no answer to confronting the reactionary agenda of these ‘conservative’ or fundamentalist religious agendas. To stand up to any of these groups is to invite a massive retaliation. In addition, of course, big business is also allied with the right-wing agenda, for the tax breaks, concentration of power (eg media consolidation, necessity of politicians to curry media favor and purchase campaign commercials), and government contracts that throw billions to businesses and their K St. lobbyists. ( Executives of top 34 Defense & oil companies rake in one billion dollars in pay)

    Because of the hidden alliance of the neo-confederates (Protestant theocratic pre-desegregation agenda) with the Vatican and the AIPAC “bomb Iran, Iraq, Syria, and any other country we want” agenda, America is now drifting towards exatly the society that Luftwaffe and Gestapo chief Herman Goering once spoke of “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. [i.e. led to war.] That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country. [even in America with a nominally ‘free press’ and “free speech.”]

  • November 2, 2007 - 8:13 am | Permalink

    AIPAC conference, Washington DC March 2007, cheers for Vice President Cheney’s “bomb Iran now” rhetoric…

    Wonkette grabs the full flavor of the AIPAC/Cheney alliance but there are dozens of sites including official WH site that capture the full text of Cheney’s speech.

    Senator Joe Lieberman, on CBS “Face the Nation” urges US to bomb Iran…

    Lieberman urges General Petraeus to use US forces in Iraq to attack in to Iran during Petraeus’ senate testimony, 9-11-2007

  • Empircal Conservative
    November 2, 2007 - 10:08 am | Permalink

    Agree with this except where he says the Israelis cope with the terrorist
    threat. They don’t “cope”, they react disproportionately, killing with impunity in reaction to stones being thrown at them, imposing collective
    punishment on the Palestinians, etc. Our reaction is very similar to theirs: conflating the inevitable blowback of unjust policies into an existential threat with racist/religionist overtones. Where freedoms have been overtly impinged
    upon by the US, it has been applied to foreigners or Arab/Muslim Americans and
    to a lesser degree to more strident political opponents of the Bushies. Meanwhile, other liberties are slowly eroded for the rest of the population. This ubermenschian practice is just like of Israel, who we are becoming more and more like every day.

  • singleton
    November 2, 2007 - 2:46 pm | Permalink


    In Coogan’s Bluff, Lee J. Cobb bugs Clint Eastwood’s character by calling him “Tex”, when he knows he’s an Arizona Deputy Sheriff.
    This is an example of how some Arizonans regard Texans.

    “Author Michael Lind made a similar observation in his book “Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeove of American Politics”.
    Lind explains that. far from being the rugged individualists of western cowboy legend, the dominate Texas ideology is that of the Southern neo-Confederate autocracy”

  • Paul
    November 2, 2007 - 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Wonderfully said. You put their cowardice in perspective and by doing so shined light on their chickenheartedness for all to see.

    Thank you.

  • bogi666
    November 5, 2007 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Bush and the Republicans have elevated cowardice to hero worship status. The apt historical context is comparing OBL, and the 9/11 nineteen hijackers that defeated American, is to Pancho Villa’s declaration of war on the USA and his invasion of New Mexico where their were casualties. Villa was pursued by Gen. Black Jack Pershing just as OBL was and both escaped capture. On a per capita basis the 19 hijackers were less than McVeigh’s 169 victims.Their was more incentive for the Bush administration to have the hijackers succeed so that they could implement their agenda of a soviet-fascist type government for the USA. Cheney changed the hijacked aircraft intercept authorization on 6/1/07 from a decentralized to a centralized authorization system. This resulted in delays for the authorization to intercept hijacked aircraft since it had to go thru Wash.,DC. A decentralized intercept authorization would have resulted in the 9/11 hijackers being intercepted preventing or stopping the attacks. The intercept authorization reverted to the decentralized system in December 2001, and this whole scenario was niver reported in the MSM.

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  • Jim
    November 24, 2007 - 2:12 pm | Permalink

    In addition to the Cowboy MYTH, Repubs and Neocons love the following:
    Goldilocks: Our opponents are too shrill or too weak but we are always just right.
    Chicken Little: The sky is falling and only we can save you.

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