Crossposted at The Blogs Canada E-Group:
This week, the Republican National Convention began in a manner that can only be described as Rovian. On Monday night, our man 'K' revealed a deep, intellectual understanding of the art of fear -- an understanding that parallels recent work in the field of neuropsychology.
At a recent conference on "the political uses and misuses of fear", Al Gore summed up the work of many leading neuroscientists with the phrase "amygdala politics". As Gore described, scientists now believe that the human brain is incapable of properly storing the memories of traumatic events. Traumatic events cannot be 'time stamped'; cannot be stored chronologically. Thus, when a person is forced to recall such an event they instinctively react as though they were reliving the trauma -- reliving their fear.
President Bush has an incentive to raise the stakes of fear in the coming election -- not because he's the logical choice to protect Americans, but because he is so obviously not. This fear will not only mask the logical stakes of the election, but raise the emotional stakes to the point that Americans cannot bring themselves to admit that their leader has failed to protect them -- that they remain defenceless. If Americans cannot admit Bush's failures, they cannot admit that Bush has failed.
It is truly astounding, the degree to which this theory was put into practice on Monday night. The key primetime hour of the evening -- beginning with John McCain, finishing with Rudolph Giuliani and exploiting the women of 9/11 families in between -- was as shameful as expected, but surprisingly adept.
Again and again, the night's most prominent speeches channeled both the imagery and tragedy of September 11th.
"Remember how we felt when the serenity of a bright September morning was destroyed by a savage atrocity so hostile to all human virtue we could scarcely imagine any human being capable of it...."
"I knew my confidence was well placed when I watched [President Bush] stand on the rubble of the World Trade Center, with his arm around a hero of September 11th, and in our moment of mourning and anger, strengthen our unity and summon our resolve by promising to right this terrible wrong, and to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear."
"He promised our enemies would soon hear from us. And so they did. So they did."
Bin Laden, anyone?
"On September 11, this city and our nation faced the worst attack in our history...."
"[A]ctually seeing a man, a human being jumping from the 101st or 102nd floor drove home to me that we were facing something beyond anything we had ever faced before...."
"I remember President Bush coming here on September 14, 2001..."
"[Site workers] were advising him in their own words on exactly what he should do with the terrorists. Of course I can't repeat their exact language."
"But one of them really went into great detail and upon conclusion of his remarks President Bush said in a rather loud voice, 'I agree.'"
My, how pleasant.
Women of the 9/11 victims' families:
"Tom called me four times from the airplane...."
"[T]he sign outside the Wal-Mart that said 'Pray for the Families'...."
"I especially remember [the flag at the Pentagon], lit up against the dark sky in the wee hours of September 12th -- that was Chic's birthday...."
"My husband, Timmy, was a fireman, in New York City, who ran through the doors of the World Trade Center, but did not walk out."
Karl Rove made sure to drive home the point to all us rubes by following this up with a rendition of the funereal song, Amazing Grace.
As I said, shamelessness was to be expected. Remarkable, however, was the sheer lack of substance. The Republicans seem to have only two planks on which to stand until November: the toppling of two sixth rate military powers and the image of George Bush standing on a pile of rubble.
Rather than treating his audience with even the least bit of respect, John McCain caricatured his opponents' argument with a ridiculous straw man:
"Those who criticize that decision would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war. But there was no status quo to be left alone...."
"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Of course, no one believed that the status quo could be allowed to prevail in Iraq. But he's right about one thing: the choice wasn't bloodshed and the status quo. It was between bloodshed and an aggressive commitment to containment.
Rudy Giuliani showed a similar disrespect toward thinking people by repeatedly -- and weirdly -- conflating acts of Palestinian terrorism with acts of terrorism committed against the United States:
"The attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics was in 1972. And the pattern had already begun...."
"In 1985, terrorists attacked the Achille Lauro and murdered an American citizen who was in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer...."
"Terrorist acts became a ticket to the international bargaining table."
"How else to explain Yasser Arafat winning the Nobel Peace Prize when he was supporting a terrorist plague in the Middle East that undermined any chance of peace?"
There was no mention of the Bush economic record -- for obvious reasons. There was no mention of Osama bin Laden -- for even more obvious reasons. Nor was there even any explanation of how Bush's policies might actually protect against terrorists.
Instead, Republicans offered only vague affirmations that Bush's vision would "extend freedom", creating "a peaceful Middle East and... a safer world".
Bush will bring freedom, and freedom will bring peace.
If what they're saying were true, they'd be absolutely right.