Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fear, Hate or Hope

I just finished seeing the new documentary on Lee Atwater entitled "Boogie Man". I love the way it picked apart the Republican political playbook. It is pretty simple, you spread fear with wedge issues and get third parties to promote the fears then deny the racism, hatred and fear you spread. And if cornered then you act like a Patriot and proclaim you are a victim of the elite media. It was simultaneously funny and nauseating to watch Tom Delay flash his creepy grin and say Lee Atwater's downfall came because he spoke the truth. Wow! No wonder Atwater got brain cancer. His polluted mind must have forced the grey matter to rebel and create a tumor just to hobble any chance of biological integrity in the face of such moral degradation.

It is hard to believe people believed this crap but I am reading a book by Reinhold Niebuhr entitled "Moral Man & Immoral Society" where he argues that individual desire for good gets clouded at a collective level due to social pressure. A reasoned person could hold fast to their sense of right but, "The individual character of conscience does not preclude the determination of most moral judgments by the opinions of the group. Most individuals lack the intellectual penetration to form independent judgments and therefore accept the moral opinions of their society. Even when they do form their own judgments there is no certainty that their sense of obligation toward moral values, defined by their own mind, will be powerful enough to overcome the fear of social disapproval."

The documentary's revelations had even more punch for me in light of this quote and because yesterday I engaged in a conversation with an old friend who is very conservative and a fan of guys like Hannity and Limbaugh. She is the type of person who believes America is some sort of New Israel where an Evangelical theocracy must happen as our birthright. It makes sense because she travels in circles that keep her well-connected to fellow Country Club Baby Boomers who have attached their narcissism to an odd form of white, wealthy bible living. Many seem to do so to reconcile the guilt left-over from multiple divorces and probably the joys found in mid 1970s key parties.

To be fair, they honestly feel a sincere sadness over abortion issues (and enjoy their money) so the Republican's pro-life, low-tax pledge becomes for them God's party. I share my friend's faith but not her politics nor her skewed historical perspective. It is hard to ponder Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson as willing members of a mega-church prayer group or the fact that all of the founding fathers ignored the pleas of real bible believers like the Quakers to abolish slavery at our founding. Our Judeo-Christian founders ignored the biblical pleas of a brotherhood of man because of course it wasn't economically expedient. So much for our history as a Christian nation eh?

After my conversation with my friend I could see how our historical collective moral blindness is alive and well and still at least partially wrapped in Atwater's cloak of fear.

She started spouting off to me messages that I had heard on evening newscasts during the pre-election hype but dismissed as silly. Maybe it is because I live in Illinois and a major city but I thought the belief that Obama is a Muslim, or a terrorist or a Socialist were ideas too absurd to motivate any type of acceptance. That was until I heard the raw fear in my friend's voice, "He's a Muslim!" "He believes we have 57 states. That's because there are 57 Muslim territories!!" "They hate us!!" "If he is a Christian, why did he change his name to a Muslim name?! Hussein!!! Hussein means sword!!!" "He said we would be a Muslim nation!!!" I couldn't believe it and strongly disagreed but didn't break through at all. Today I received an email about how Barack Obama had an American name Barry but changed it to Barack in college because he is a Muslim and no media is reporting this. I wrote back that in March Newsweek had done a cover story on this.

I am saddened by this continued fear that passes as faith and courage in our country. I also am humbled by President Elect Obama's intelligence to craft a communications strategy that obviated the Atwater plan by employing direct courage, calm and hope. There are generational dynamics at work here that Boomers won't get (primarily because their self-centered minds convince them of their right to be the authors of all social experience) but, the pragmatist X and pluralist Millennial generations don't take too well to fear. The former because they had to live with enough of it as latch-key kids watching their divorced boomer parents leverage it in their self-centered campaigns for love and approval and the latter because it is irrelevant to their sense of specialness.

Atwater admitted as he was dying that he didn't stand for anything and didn't believe anything he peddled. He also said that his strategy to use hate and fear to win elections damaged our country's collective integrity. Most conservatives who subscribe to Atwater's form of politics will be, as Niebuhr illustrated, blind to Lee's amoral power-lust because it interferes with the moral rationalizations that allow their comfort. I wish my friend would get this but anything that opposes the social construct she has created only seems to reinforce the strategy of fear and makes me duped by the conspiracy theory.

My hope is the hope that President Obama won with becomes a continued strategy for public discourse. I hope we empower our individual minds to question messages of fear and find a way to bend the collective mind to "hope".

But Niebuhr also said, "Power is poison" so, the Democrats could fall victim to the same hate that defined Atwater. At the very least we can all recite another Niebuhr classic when the going gets too hateful, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."


Philip said...


After reading your post, I felt slightly offended by one-side portrayal of Republicans. As you know, I am a conservative. And none of your characterizations fit me or any conservatives I know.

None of my Republican friends fall into the "country club" crowd. No multiple divorces making us feel guilty. None are "blind" with "amoral power lust." Just so you know, not all conservatives are driven by greed. I'm sure some of the people that voted for McCain are. But most of the 50 million who voted for him have simple beliefs: the Constitution is the foundation of our country's greatness and does not need to be altered by judges, life begins at conception (tough to argue against that one), smaller government encourages small business, a strong national defense is important to keeping us safe, and immigration should happen legally. Many of us voted for Bush ... but we are ready for new government. We don't agree with many of the things his administration did. And we don't agree with a number of pieces of legislation John McCain authored through the years. But we do feel a deep sense pride for John McCain's military service and an overwhelming debt of gratitude for ALL our soldiers. In spite of my differences with McCain, I still admire him. And I feel he would have represented my values better than Obama.

Do you want to know why most conservative I know are fearful? Not because Barack might be a Muslim. Nobody thinks that. Nor that he hates America. Or believes the garbage his pastor of 20 years spewed. But we do realize that Nancy Pelosi is in charge of the House. Harry Reid is in charge of the Senate. Barney Frank is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Chris Dodd is chariman of the Senate Banking Committee. Team all those people up with the most liberal congressman (according to National Journal) Senator Obama. And then add in the predominantly liberal media. We are fearful that our conservative values are at risk. And we fear that the Republicans are sleeping through it all.

You know what, though? I'm not upset about the election. I will to give President Obama's administration a chance. I HOPE they prove me wrong. I HOPE they figure out a way to stop illegal immigration. I HOPE they find a way to end abortion. I HOPE they get us out of this economic crisis. I HOPE we get out of Iraq and their country is in a better place than when we got there. I HOPE they don't bring back the fairness doctrine. I HOPE they end homelessness. I HOPE they end poverty. I HOPE that all our people can realize the American Dream, myself included.

But I especially HOPE that all the people who are looking to Obama to make their lives happier realize that government is never the answer to happiness. Chuck, you and I know that the source of happiness is not from anything on this earth. It is only through God.

And I HOPE that God continues to bless our fine country. I am proud to be an America. Always have been. Always will be.

Your friend always,

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Michael said...

Hi Chuck,
I just read your thoughts on the conservative mind set of fear mongering and I find it interesting that you only see one side of the fear factor. Do Republicans campaign on fear? I'm sure they do. Do Demacrats campaign on fear? Yes they do. But you don't seem to see it. The biggest fear from Liberals is that you or I may have an opinion different from theirs and actually want to express it!
Take the misnamed Fairness Doctrine. It is not about fairness it's about thought control which leads me to the "Hate Crimes." Do you know of anybody who would commits a crime against someone because they liked them? It is absurd to apply a different sentence to someone because they attacked the other person's "social situation."
If this is a criteria, then abortions should be hate crimes. Try applying moral justification to that scenario.
My greatest fear from Liberals is that they do not believe in the rule of law or in representative government. Let me explain. The idea of a "living Constitution" is a smoke screen for the doctrine of "If we can't get what we want by the legal and proper legislative process, then we will force it down the country's throat through illegal judicial action." The moral justification is, of course, because we (the Liberals)are right and the majority is wrong (read stupid, uninformed, backwards, ie. religious). As far as our country being Christian based, if you were to look through the Congressional Record of the first say 40 years of our country, you would find that the most quoted source for reference or basis for a law, would be the bible. Did they get it wrong when it came to slavery, yes. But who finally got it right, the religious conservative Republican Party. And you might also not know that although a Democratic president Johnson pushed The Civil Rights Act, the Democrats in Congress tried to filibuster the legislation, lead by none other than Al Gore's father, and that the final vote that passed the legislation had a higher percentage of Republicans for it than Democrats. And you can add to this list that Martin Luther King commented that as bad as Montgomery was, Chicago was worse under the Democrats that ran that that town. And did I mention that every KKK member who has ever run for office has run as a Democrat. The point is, if you only get your information from one side or you take one issue and extrapolate from it to make sweeping generalities, then you are doing yourself an injustice of thinking that you are being intellectually fair minded.
If you want to hear from the intellectual conservative side, try Bill Bennett or Dennis Prager.
I will pray for our new president, because that is what my God commands me to do. But my trust is in Jesus Christ alone, because He is the Author of all that is, or will ever be, good in my life.
God bless you and your bride with great happiness throughout the New Year.
Michael Maurice