Fear is sometimes good for you. It can help you anticipate and avoid danger, and remain safe. It functions the same way pain does—its purpose is your survival.
E.O. Wilson says that one of the clues as to our common African origin is our instinctive fear of snakes. One’s first impulse when encountering one, no matter how harmless it might actually be, is alarm.
But when you start thinking that every strange sound or movement may be a poisonous snake, you have a different problem altogether.
It’s no surprise then that man, Aristotle’s political animal, should bring his survival instincts to politics. We often allow fear to control our political decisions, rather than rationally dissecting the issues, and some very smart politicians have discovered that it is quite easy to take advantage of fear.
For example, a member of Congress once declared that the GOP plan for healthcare reform is for sick people to die quickly. Obviously this was a gross distortion but it works for gullible people—and fear makes you gullible, makes you willing to give up your will in exchange for safety. It is one of the reasons that the founders of America were so insistent that the citizenry be well educated and sophisticated.
Penn Jillette of the Cato Institute once said that the Democrats are the Party of Hatred and the Republicans are the Party of Fear. It’s a generalization, of course, and one can’t expect it to always hold true. And, one must add, that fear and hatred are closely allied: fear is very often what is at the bottom of hatred. The most obvious example of this is racism.
The Democrats are using fear more than hatred since the House passed the Ryan budget along party lines. Many people do not need to be persuaded of the details—fear is enough for them to take the Democrat side. Ryan is “changing Medicare as we know it,” they say, and “change” of any kind is suddenly an automatic disqualifier.
Why are these rank and file Democrats afraid of the Ryan budget, and not afraid of the President’s budget, which, by the way, was shot down without receiving a single vote even from Democrats? President Obama has yet to offer a budget that ever balances—if we take any of his budgets, they promise permanent deficit spending. The Republican messaging problem is that no one is afraid of that.