IF THE STOCK MARKET IS A CONTEST BETWEEN GREED AND fear, elections are a contest between hope and fear. This year fear is winning. We have gone way beyond the traditional red scare or Medi-scare deployments. The Kerry campaign warns darkly that the President has secret plans to do all kinds of nefarious things upon re-election: reinstate the draft, privatize Social Security and, brace yourself, lower dairy prices--the prospect of which in Wisconsin, where Kerry made the charge last month, can make a grown man cry. Of course, the biggest "fear" scandal of the campaign thus far (the night is young) was Vice President Dick Cheney saying that we are more likely to be "hit again" by terrorists if John Kerry is elected.
This elicited a Mount St. Helens protest from Democrats. "It is completely inappropriate and dangerous," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, "for the Vice President to in effect threaten the American people, to be part of instilling fear into our country." John Edwards declared that "Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line" because "protecting America from vicious terrorists" is not a partisan issue.
That is quite insane. Or at least insanely disingenuous. What is this election about if not protecting America from "vicious terrorists?" John Kerry has been going up and down the country for the past year saying that the President has made us less safe and that he will make us more safe. Safe from whom? From al-Qaeda and the other terrorists, of course. Safe from what? From another attack and in particular another 9/11. This entire election hinges on a single question more than any other: Under which man are you and your country more or less likely to be attacked?
Senator Edward Kennedy thunders that re-electing Bush will make a nuclear 9/11 more likely. Did Kennedy cross the line? Not at all. He was making the Democrats' case, without the League of Women Voters' niceties.
The chin-pulling do-gooders (in addition to the disingenuous partisans) lament the injecting of fear into the campaign. The candidates, they insist, should instead be pointing to the sunny uplands of the American dream and showing how their seven-point program will get us there.
Such piety is always ridiculous but never more ridiculous than today. Never in American history has fear been a more appropriate feeling. Never has addressing that fear been a more relevant issue in a political campaign.
Shortly after Hiroshima, wrote physicist Richard Feynman in his memoirs, "I would go along and I would see people building a bridge ... and I thought, they're crazy, they just don't understand, they don't understand. Why are they making new things? It's so useless." Useless because doomed. Futile because humanity had no future. That's what happens to a man who worked on the Manhattan Project and saw with his own eyes at Alamogordo intimations of the apocalypse. Feynman had firsthand knowledge of what man had wrought--and a first-class mind deeply skeptical of the ability of his own primitive species not to be undone by its own cleverness.