The Bush administration always denied this, and rightly so. If the president admitted that he was using a national calamity for narrow partisan or ideological advantage, it would be outrageous. Indeed, every time Karl Rove or some other administration official said anything that could be even remotely interpreted as using the war or 9/11 for partisan or ideological gain, the editorial pages and Democratic news-release factories churned into overdrive with righteous indignation.
Well, now we have the president, along with his chief aides, admitting -- boasting! -- that they want to exploit a national emergency to further their pre-existing agenda, and there's no scandal. No one even calls it a gaffe. No, they call it leadership.
It's not leadership. It's fear-mongering.
Franklin Roosevelt said that all we have to fear is fear itself. Now, Barack Obama tacitly admits that all he has to fear is the loss of fear itself.
In other realms of life, exploiting a crisis for your own purposes is an outrage. If a business uses a hurricane warning to price-gouge on vital supplies, it is a crime. When a liberal administration does it, it's taking advantage of a historic opportunity.
Obama's defenders respond to this argument by stating that the president's motives are decent, noble and pure. He wants to help the uninsured and the poorly educated. He wants to make good on his vow to halt those rising oceans.
But this is just a rationalization. Every president thinks his agenda is what's best for the country; every politician believes his motives are noble. The point is that scaring people about X in order to achieve Y is fundamentally undemocratic.
This was transparently obvious to Bush's harshest critics, who alleged that 9/11 was merely a convenient crisis for devious neocons who wanted to topple Hussein all along. But it's now clear that many of these critics simply objected to the agenda, not the alleged tactics. Now that it's their turn, they see nothing wrong with doing what they so recently condemned.
They even admit it, over and over again.
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