Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Scare Tactics

Examples can probably be found in both the left and right wings of American politics. Examples of scare tactics, that is. Or maybe we could call it the politics of fear.
Recently I have found, without really looking, several examples of scare tactics used by political conservatives, vocal right-wingers. Marybeth Hicks is an example. She is an attractive, young (she looks young to me, anyway) author and weekly columnist for the Washington Times.
Ms. Hicks’ new book was published last year. The full title is Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left’s Assault on our Families, Faith, and Freedom. She declares that the political Left’s goal is to topple “the three-legged stool on which our nation rests: religion, the traditional family, and free market capitalism” (p. xi).
While there are perhaps some legitimate concerns expressed by Ms. Hicks, overall she seems to be mainly an alarmist, using scare tactics for political purposes. And it is not hard to figure out that her main political purpose is persuading voters this year to elect conservative candidates rather than liberal ones.
No telling how many other authors/books are similar to Don’t Let the Kids . . . One other such book is Crimes Against Liberty: An Indictment of President Barack Obama (2010), a 500+ page tome by David Limbaugh (b. 1952), the younger brother of Rush Limbaugh. In that book the President is charged with crimes of various and sundry sorts, such as crimes against “the people,” the constitution, and national security.
One of the most vocal journalists/authors who uses scare tactics and highly controversial language to oppose non-conservative politicians and political positions is Ann Coulter (b. 1961). Her newest book is titled Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America (2011).
The books by Hicks and Limbaugh present a very strong polemic against “liberals” in American society, but they not as outrageous as Coulter. And while politicians and their supporters often demonize their opponents, few are as blatant as Coulter.
The title of her first chapter is “The Liberal Mob,” and she begins with these words: “The demon is a mob, and the mob is demonic.” Then halfway down the same page she asserts, “The Democratic Party is the party of the mob.”
There are, of course, those who oppose and criticize the Right, and the Republican Party. But I have been unable to find any example of people on the Left who have blatantly used the same sort of scare tactics through recently published books. (There may well be some, but I have tried, and failed, to find any good examples. I would be happy to consider suggestions from readers.)
Everyone has a right to their own political opinion, and they should, of course, vote according to their convictions. But those opinions and convictions should be based on a rational consideration of opposing views, a fair appraisal of the facts at hand, and a concerted effort to find the truth of the matters about with the political candidates and their supporters speak.
Allowing one’s opinion to be formed by people using scare tactics and then voting because of succumbing to such tactics is an affront to true democracy and a threat to the well-being of a nation.


  1. Leroy, I am tempted to jump on your band wagon and say, "if you are vulnerable to manipulation by _____, then you should not be allowed to vote" — but that would be taking your point too far, I think.

    In a democracy, scare tactics is just one factor. Money is another, and maybe more powerful. And then there is sheer oratorical skills, combined with physical coercion — think Hitler.

    When "my" side uses scare tactics — over-population, limits to growth, climate change — they seem reasonable and obvious. When "their" side uses them, as you cite above, they probably seem reasonable and obvious to them.

    How do we resolve this? A fascist take-over by a charismatic dictator has happened before in a highly educated society — not my choice. I have the fantasy that small-scale community organizing, including both bonding social capital and bridging social capital, is a tactic worth pursuing.

    As Norman Royall used to say, our over-evolved cortex may be the ultimate evolutionary dead-end for homo sapiens. Our reptilian brain should have evolved more and caused Germans to vomit when Hitler spoke — instead, they listened and found "answers." He was alluding to our discovery of nuclear fission.

    1. Norman Royall (1910-1998) was a long-time professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UMKC. Royall Hall was named in his honor.

  2. Phil, you have a point worth considering--and I did consider whether what I recently posted about protecting the environment could be related to a scare tactic.

    But I decided it wasn't, for I was dealing with what seems to be factually supported by scientific evidence, admittedly with some interpretation, and it was not an attack on persons or groups. When I mentioned specific names, it was just to quote what they had said.

    The scare tactics used by the Right are not directed at issues as much as at persons (President Obama) or groups (the Left, the Democratic Party). That is a decisive difference, it seems to me.

    But maybe I did border on using a scare tactic when I ended by saying that the Right's use of scare tactics is dangerous to democracy!

  3. My esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky who comments on almost every posting made this comment by e-mail:

    "Right on, Leroy! I don't know of any liberal writings trying to stoke fear either. But I'm very familiar with the politics of fear used to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention."

  4. There is an old saying in law that also covers its neighbor, politics. If you are strong on law, argue the law. If you are strong on the facts, argue the facts. If you are strong on neither, talk loudly. That is the thing to remember when your opponent is talking loudly, he is probably strong on neither the law nor the facts.

    The first three stages of grief are denial, anger and fear. If you listen carefully to the conservatives, they are often looking for a hill to die on. In a very profound sense they believe they are losing. This is very powerful knowledge for those with the poise to use it. The future is their enemy. The past is their home. They have gone from not believing in abortion to not believing in birth control. They have gone from not believing in evolution to not believing in a college education. They are down on public education and women's health care. While they fret over Obama walking on water, they reduce Romney to walking on egg shells.

    A two-year old throwing a tantrum is sad, a nation throwing a tantrum is dangerous. The answer, however, in both cases is the same. We have to be adults. Let your light shine.

  5. Fear and half-truths have been used for a long time. Remember the Garden of Eden. The serpent said to the woman, "Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?" (The Message translation) That opened the way for the big lie, "You won't die . . .
    You'll be just like God. . ."
    The pattern has not changed much.

  6. One of the problems we have in the U.S. is that there is no real left wing. So we confuse liberalism with "left." And we'll mistakenly view the reasonable and empirically based views of the liberals as the extreme left counterpart to these extreme right nut-jobs mentioned in this blog. It's late, and I'm tired, so maybe I'm being too extreme. However, it seems to me, we still need to be able to identify some perspectives as nutso and some commentators as nuts, and those mentioned in this blog are clearly nuts, or so it seems to me. :-)

  7. Anton, I tend to agree with your assessment, but what scares (word chosen advisedly) me is how many people read and highly evaluate those "nuts."

    On Limbaugh's book received five stars from 199 readers (out of 276) and Coulter's book received five stars from 215 readers (out of 336).

    And yesterday Mark Levin's new book (which came out in January) was no. 2 on the non-fiction bestseller list on the "Kansas City Star," and it has 1,122 five star reviews (out of 1,489) on (I didn't mention Levin in the blog posting, but he is a rabid right-winger like Limbaugh and Coulter.)

  8. (For some reason, the time given on when comments are posted is two hours early. I posted the comments above at 5:29, not 3:29.)

    1. I was going to posit the server being two time zones to the east. Then I noticed the time on your post. It is 5:29am and your following comment is shown as 5:31am.