The politics of fear

Posted: Nov 07, 2002 12:00 AM
The Democrats were big losers Tuesday night, and not just because they lost a half dozen seats in the House and their slim grip on the Senate. What this election proved is that the politics of fear isn't working anymore. Over the last three national elections, Democrats have tried to scare Americans into voting for them, especially blacks. But fear isn't a viable political platform, as Republican candidates proved on Election Day. The Democrats hoped that fear over the economy would hurt Republican chances in several key races. The fact is, the economy is in better shape than either the Democrats or the media would have you believe. Interest rates are at historic lows, inflation is virtually non-existent, and unemployment is low. When it comes to individuals, these are the numbers that matter most. Houses are more affordable because of low interest rates; inflation isn't eating up family paychecks; and most people aren't in imminent danger of losing their jobs. While the economy is not expanding as quickly as it did through much of the 1980s and '90s, it is still growing, at roughly 3.1 percent in the third quarter. So the Democrats had a hard time convincing voters that breadlines were just around the corner if they voted for the GOP. Scare tactics didn't work as well as they have in the past with blacks, either. In 2000, the Democrats frightened many blacks into thinking the Republicans would repeal the civil rights laws if they took control of the White House and kept the House and Senate. The NAACP -- which is supposed to be nonpartisan but often acts as an adjunct of the Democratic Party -- ran a series of disgusting ads during the presidential election that laid blame on George W. Bush for the vicious murder of a black man in Texas while Bush was governor. James Byrd was dragged to his death tied to the back of a pickup truck driven by three white supremacists who were ex-cons. The men who killed Byrd were caught, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death. Nonetheless, the ad featured the dead man's daughter claiming that Gov. Bush's failure to sign a flawed hate crimes bill was like having her father killed all over again. Democrats used similar tactics in other races that year, as well as in 1996 and 1998. Using vivid images in their ads of the Ku Klux Klan and black churches burning, the Democrats implied that the GOP was somehow to be blamed. The tactic worked -- to a point. Black turnout went up as many blacks feared that if Republicans were in power, the entire nation would turn into Mississippi in the darkest days of racial discrimination in the 1930s. But George W. Bush has proved a lousy bogeyman for the Democrats. Not only is he likable, but in the wake of the September 11 attack on the United States, he has proven himself a real leader for all Americans. But without scaring blacks and others, the Democrats seem to have nothing to offer. Even their much-vaunted get-out-the-vote effort seems to have backfired this time around. In Maryland, for example, high turnout in an off-year election helped the Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich win a historic victory over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the first for a Republican candidate in 36 years. Four years ago, the Maryland Republican nominee, Ellen Sauerbrey, was defeated in large part because of Democratic efforts to portray her -- unfairly -- as anti-black. But it didn't work this time, in part because Ehrlich picked black attorney and former state Republican Party chairman Michael Steele as his running mate. With the GOP now in control of both Congress and the White House, Republicans now have the chance to prove that the only thing Americans have to fear is Democrat fear-mongering politics.