Fear and Trust

October 25, 2014

I’ve been watching and listening as the 2014 campaign unfolds. It’s not pretty, to the eyes or the ears.

If you’re a liberal like me and you’ve written checks from time to time to candidates and groups like Act Blue and MoveOn, your inbox gets a deluge of emails every day. Once in a while an email brags about success; mostly, though, they share “sky is falling” imagery, with a $1,000,000 this and $7,000,000 that (being spent against one of the good ones), plenty of mentions of Boehner and the Kochs, etc. Apparently, it’s working, for the Democrats have raised lots of money off their direct “mail” efforts.

On the other side, we have Ebola-fear. Best example? Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who passes for something of a moderate in Republica-landia circa 2014, tells us about Ebola being transmitted through the air, and that the experts are wrong. No evidence offered. (Lots more fear about many other subjects being peddled by the Rs, but space is limited.)

In 1970—certainly a time of tumult—then Senator Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) suggested that Democrats counter Republican “politics of fear” with the “politics of trust.” He added that “the world is a baffling and hazardous place but it can be shaped by the will of men.” (When Senator Muskie offered these comments there were two female U.S. Senators:  his fellow Mainer, Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who was elected in her own right, and Elaine Edwards (D-La.), wife of then Governor and current candidate for the House of Representatives—and felon—Edwin Edwards. So please excuse Senator Muskie for his lack of inclusiveness.)

So what’s not pretty, and what’s missing from this campaign? The politics of trust. Being for something! Not being afraid! I’m not often critical of President Obama, and it’s not because I’m “in the tank.” Instead, I really believe he’s done a pretty good job, especially in the face of well-documented efforts by Republicans in Congress to have him fail. That said, where’s the leadership? We need a strong voice, telling us we will survive! Yes, Ebola is scary, but it’s also scary that, yet again yesterday, a child went off to school—this time north of Seattle—and did not come home alive, and another child went off to the same school with weapons designed to kill people. It’s scary that we have Entero-virus, another respiratory virus (mostly in the northern states, mostly affecting children), and many other public health problems, and we that can’t confirm the nominee for Surgeon General because he thinks guns are a public health problem.

True is is that the exemplar of presidential leadership in fearful times was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statement that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And true it is that, in fact, people in the 1930s had plenty to fear beyond fear itself. The point? We too have lots to be fearful about, but we have a right to expect a strong, clear leader’s voice, telling us “I’ve got this,” and that’s what we need from our president.

Now, if President Obama tells us “he’s got this,” he has the right to expect government to deliver. Responsible government officials need to step it up, even in the face of critical voices, most often the same voices that cut spending and tell us government is the problem.

We on the left also have a right to expect our candidates to speak up for us, and for our values. One possible explanation for a pretty quiet President Obama may be polls which tell candidates from his party they do better when he’s quiet. Too bad, for we didn’t hire the guy to listen to campaign functionaries for spineless Congressional candidates.

One of the strongest and most unexpectedly strong candidates for the U.S. Senate this year is Michelle Nunn from Georgia, who has spoken up for the Affordable Care Act and other achievements of the Obama Administration. “Goods” sells, even when the experts say it won’t, and if it doesn’t sell, some warmed over pablum probably won’t sell either.

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