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Cultivating & Exploiting American Anxiety
Republic of Fear
by CARL ESTABROOK

By any reasonable calculation, members of the Bush administration should be looking for jobs as desperately as this year’s college graduates. There are two million fewer jobs in the American economy today than on the day George Bush took office, and that fact alone should be enough for the voters in 2004 to turf out this ridiculous president and what Matt Taibbi calls his "small gang of snickering, stupid thugs whose vision of paradise is full of explosions and beautifully designed prisons".

So how did they get away with it? And how may they still get away with it in November 2004?

Greg Palast and others have demonstrated the racist purging of voters’ lists, pioneered by Florida (but hardly limited to one corrupt state) for the 2000 election. And instead of fixing a system that casts doubt on every election, as Palast recently pointed out, "Astonishingly, Congress adopted the absurdly named ‘Help America Vote Act,’ which requires every state to replicate Florida’s system of centralized, computerized voter files before the 2004 election."

The manufacture of consent in the 2000 election was confirmed up by the Supreme Court, the final bulwark against democracy since the time of John Marshall and his discovery of "judicial review" (which is not in the Constitution). The court made sure that the candidate with the most votes did not become president. Of course Gore, as a carefully vetted and pre-selected candidate, did not object enough to risk his membership in the elite political club.

But almost four out of five of Americans of voting age did not vote for George Bush in 2000 — half didn’t vote, and fewer than half of those who did, voted for Bush — a more important figure than the vague "approval rating." (As Michael Moore says, in these days of the Patriot Act, if someone you don’t know calls you at home and asks whether you "approve" of the president, what are you going to say?)

"Nearly 70% of each group [voters and non-voters] says that the modern campaigns ‘seem more like theater or entertainment than something to be taken seriously,’ and over 70% of each group agrees that candidates are ‘more concerned with fighting each other than with solving the nation’s problems.’" That was the conclusion from polls taken by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, just before the 2000 election. But how can the condign condemnation of a pre-cooked electoral system by the vast majority of the nation’s citizens be turned into the modicum of support that Bush requires to avoid impeachment? One word: fear.

In the propaganda campaign for the Bush administration’s second demonstration war against a helpless country, Kanan Makiya was a helpful player. His book Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (1989, republished in 1998) retailed the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s government without much emphasis on the fact that they were accomplished with US aid and support. As Iraq became the official hate-object in America through the fall and winter of 2002, Makiya’s prominence grew — e.g., he became the capstone for an article advocating war in the "liberal" New York Times Magazine.

But the true "republic of fear," it was clear by then, is the United States of America. Only in America was government propaganda able to make citizens personally afraid of Saddam Hussein, sufficiently to promote a war for non-existent "weapons of mass destruction." 911 was a godsend to the Bush administration, for in all the world only Americans could be made to fear Saddam Hussein because of his supposed link to "terrorism."

In mid-April the New York Times tried to take the edge off a poll showing that, even as US troops were entering Baghdad, a majority of Americans remained opposed to the policy of pre-emptive war that Bush invoked in attacking Iraq. In contrast to the unforgiving numbers, it offered this nugget of "human interest":

"Ina Urness, 71, of Higginsville, Mo., said in a follow-up interview that she approved of the administration’s moving pre-emptively against nations that posed a threat to the United States. ‘We ought to nip it right in the bud, because it’s better them than us,’ she said. ‘Get over there and get them before they can have a chance to turn those missiles loose on us over here.’"

In America the fears of foreign attack are bracketed with much more reasonable fears of personal economic collapse. Can the Bush administration continue to cover one fear with the other, so that it can go on with its policy of imperial war abroad and transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich at home? Since no real critique will come from the "other" party (with an occasional exception), that seems likely. The policy of aggressive war has both domestic and foreign attractions for any United States government.

The dangers are great to the people of the world and also to the perpetrators of this vicious policy. At the end of the Second World War in Europe, the US and its allies tried and executed the German leadership for launching aggressive war, on the basis of international law formulated as the Nuremberg Principles. If those principles were applied to recent American presidents in the same way, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush pere et fils would have to be hanged. Remember, mental incompetence does not preclude execution in the US.

CARL ESTABROOK is a Visiting Scholar University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at: galliher@alexia.lis.uiuc.edu