Jonah Goldberg

What's hilarious about this is that Gore is, without question, the most successful fearmonger in America, if not the whole world. He is constantly spinning climate change in the most horrifying terms possible. He asserts global warming as the author of nearly every calamity, inflating threats in order to bully people into agreeing with him. There's no time to argue, do what I say or we're all doomed, is the central message of Al Gore's environmental shtick. And it works for him. It's made him both hugely wealthy and popular in the circles he cares about and it has advanced his agenda farther than fair-minded persuasion would.

Of course, in the process he's fueled paranoia among an entire generation of young people who think we're seconds from an environmental Armageddon.

Gore also seems to have taught Barack Obama a thing or two. President Obama, whose whole campaign was about hope over fear, has been scaring the dickens out of people lately. He has certainly terrified the stock market. He's warned of "catastrophe" and economic "disaster" from which we may never recover.

What's particularly odious about Obama's scare tactics is that he's using them for the mother of all bait-and-switches. He justifiably scares people about the magnitude of the financial crisis, but uses that fear not to sell them on a solution to the crisis but to trick them into signing up for a new Great Society. It's like convincing someone he's got cancer and then telling him that's why he needs to buy a new car.

But beyond the hypocrisy and the undemocratic nature of using panic to cram through policies you couldn't get through debate and persuasion, what I find fascinating is the psychological projection. Liberals have been using fear to demonize their opponents for generations. FDR did it all the time. Harry Truman claimed his 1948 opponent, Thomas Dewey, was the front man for a fascist cabal. LBJ tried to link Barry Goldwater with the Klan and the (fictionally right-wing) forces who assassinated Kennedy. Bill Clinton was a master of conjuring fears about angry white men and other hobgoblins. Al Gore campaigned in 2000 by decrying every idea he didn't like as a "risky scheme." Liberal activists groups stir up panics over food, children, power lines, polar bears and a thousand other things every day.

I've long been convinced that one of the chief sources of rage in politics is when the enemy steals your shtick. Republicans loathed Bill Clinton in part because he ran on issues like crime and fixing welfare. One major ingredient of Bush hatred was that he campaigned on issues like education and gushed about compassion. I'm not saying that Republicans don't practice the politics of fear. But I do sometimes wonder if Democrats get so upset about it because they think they're the only ones allowed to do that.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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