Fear Mongering

FEAR MONGERING….The Republican campaign message this year is an unsubtle one: If you vote for Democrats, terrorists will kill you. John Dickerson argues today that Dems should fight fire with fire:

Here’s my advice: The Democrats should embrace fear-mongering more passionately.

….The question the Democrats should be asking is whether Bush’s policies are inspiring the people who want to kill us….This question derives from a central one that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked in his famous October 2003 memo: “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” In the short term, the answer seems to be no.

….My fear is that Democrats won’t have the guts to fight fear with fear, perhaps because they don’t want to be accused of being politically craven on an issue where they are weak….Still, if Democrats don’t aggressively ask whether the Republican policies are inspiring a greater number of people to devote their lives to killing Americans than would otherwise be the case, we’ll miss a chance to have the kind of messy, realism-filled public debate we somehow continue to skirt. Democrats should stretch beyond the bumper sticker and ask the really scary questions.

I think Dickerson is proposing the right question. The big problem with the militarism inherent in the Bush Doctrine is that even if it does manage to kill off a bunch of terrorists and disrupt al-Qaeda’s current operations ? itself a debatable proposition ? it’s still a bad strategy because in the long run it encourages jihadist sympathies and creates far more new terrorists than the ones we kill off today. As with George Bush’s domestic policy, it creates the illusion of present-day action at the expense of long-term disaster.

But ? I’m still not sure Dickerson’s advice is good. People who are scared want action right now, which means that a strategy of fear-mongering is simply not compatible with the long-term policy of tactical restraint, counterinsurgency, and economic engagement that Democrats need to be selling. Dickerson is right that fear-mongering helped John F. Kennedy win election in 1960, but it also contributed to the hysterical atmosphere that helped bring us the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, and finally the Vietnam backlash. In the long run, did that help either the country or the Democratic Party?

That’s an extremely arguable point. But I’d like to hear those arguments before I buy into fear-mongering as a 2006 campaign strategy.