Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ode to the politics of fear?

I CONTINUE to be amazed by people -- intelligent, rational people -- who evidently believe that President Obama has Marvel Comics-level superhero powers. "Why doesn't he just get in touch with his inner Incredible Hulk to cure what ails us?" they wonder with childlike incredulity. And speaking of the Hulk, I am further amazed by how devoted some of these folks are to benevolent brute force and its supposed effectiveness. In a lengthy front page article about gun control ("In Gun Bill Defeat, a President’s Distaste for Twisting Arms"), the New York Times flatly stated what it sees as a basic "truth" about Mr. Obama: "After more than four years in the Oval Office, the president has rarely demonstrated an appetite for ruthless politics that instills fear in lawmakers." After all, LBJ used to "back people up against a wall" to get his way, famed biographer Robert Dallek told Peter Baker, the auteur of the the Times piece. "Obama has this more reasoned temperament," Dallek said. "It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion." In a jaw-dropping Sunday opinion piece, "No Bully in the Pulpit," Maureen Dowd wrote: "Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles." So, let's add this up. Ruthlessness. Arm-twisting. Slamming folks against walls. Brass knuckles. Bullying. Instilling fear. Excuse me, but have these people lost their collective minds? And when did the politics of fear become a virtue or democracy a zero-sum game? It is true that neither Mao Zedong (who famously said that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun") nor Joseph Stalin would have lost a gun control debate. But the price of their "persuasion" tactics would strike most Americans as a tad high, Dowd's talk of brass knuckles notwithstanding. Granted, LBJ -- the fellow to whom Obama is often and inaccurately compared -- got Congress to enact some marvelous legislation through intimidation. But he also force-marched the nation down the rabbit hole of Vietnam at a cost of 58,282 American lives; and ended up as a broken, one-term president. I'll take Mr. Obama's "reasoned temperament" anytime and twice on Sundays.

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