Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fraidy cats and fear itself: Left and Right

There's been a longstanding meme on the Left about the Right, one I've written about before. It's a twist on the old schoolyard taunt, "Fraidy, cat, fraidy cat!"

The allegation is that the Right is motivated by fear--and unrealistic and wildly exaggerated fear, at that. My esteemed colleague Shrinkwrapped has written a recent and excellent piece on the subject.

Funny; when I look about me on the Right, I don't see a whole lot of fear. Anger, perhaps, both at the Left and at the Islamist totalitarian enemy. But on the whole, the Right seems to me to be realistically facing and evaluating the threat before us, taking the enemy at its word about what it intends to do, and trying to learn the lessons of history. The Right wishes to take action against that enemy rather than wait in passive denial, wring its hands in fear, or pursue the false hope of appeasement.

One can disagree with the methods and approach of the Right without disagreeing about the degree of threat represented by the enemy. The Left, however, in choosing the "fraidy cat" argument, appears to be thinking along the following lines (excerpt from that previous post of mine about fear):

The legacy of Vietnam is that the left has a lingering mindset that considers national security concerns to almost always be mere excuses for government spying...The left, and many liberals, seem to feel that the raising of security issues in these situations is almost always bogus--a sort of screen, used by a proto-totalitarian government to cover its own misuse of power, with the goal of getting away with domestic spying on its enemies, and the further consolidation of its own power. If this is the conception, then national security concerns must be downplayed in almost all cases, and the role of fear as motivation for those concerns exaggerated instead.

I see the Right as motivated by realism about the goals of Islamist totalitarianism, and this leads to calls for action to block the enemy before the threat it represents becomes even greater, and the possibility of even more devastation looms larger.

But even if we are willing to grant, for the sake of argument, the Left's charge that the main motivation on the Right is fear, we can say two things. The first is that in facing an enemy bent on one's destruction and willing to purposely kill as many innocents as possible with all the weapons at its disposal, some element of fear (as in "apprehension of a danger") is certainly warranted. The real question is whether the fear is realistic or whether it is exaggerated, and whether the person is paralyzed by that fear, or whether he/she takes appropriate action to forestall the feared consequences.

The left has its own fears, of course, and they are potent motivators, as well. As previously stated, they fear abuse of power by our own government in the pursuit of national security more than any foreign threat. To parse it even more finely, sometimes it seems that they fear abuse of power by a Republican executive branch more than anything; back in the days of FDR they liked a powerful federal government well enough, when it was run by a Democrat.

Speaking of FDR, it was he who famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The context in which he made that statement is interesting; take a look at his First Inaugural Address, delivered in March of 1933, when the nation faced the Great Depression, the subject matter of FDR's speech.

FDR does indeed say, "The only think we have to fear is fear itself" (and, by the way, listen to the audio; what a speaker he was!). But this is the message in which his quote was embedded:

...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory...In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties [he follows with a long list of the problems the nation faced at the time]...Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Then, as now, the danger of fear is not really fear itself. It is, as FDR stated [emphasis mine], "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts."

I submit that those words define the stance of the Left today far more than that of the Right--in fearing, for example, warrantless NSA wiretapping of calls with terrorist foreign nationals more than the consequences of not using reasonable tools in our arsenal in order to fight an implacable and vicious enemy (and see here if you wish to revisit the complexities of the legal arguments concerning these wiretappings).

And I agree, along with FDR, that "only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment." I happen to think the Left fits the definition of "foolish optimist" in denying the dark realities of the present-day Islamist totalitarian threat. The Left, of course, thinks people such as myself to be foolish optimists in denying the dark realities of the threats posed by the would-be dictators Bush and Rove, and that we are timid and cowering fraidy cats in assuming that people such as Ahmadinejad mean exactly and precisely what they say.

[NOTE: And speaking of fear...]

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