Politics

Who's Afraid of Political Cliches?

Courage is agreeing with the establishment.

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With the presidential election now less than a year off, the machinery of American politics has been cranking out clichés on an industrial scale—and from now through November it will continue to pick up the pace. Soon America will be hip-deep in allegations that so-and-so is "the most extreme" candidate in living memory; that someone else has reached "a new low"; that this will be "the most important election" in our lifetime; etc.

At the moment, the cliché that has gotten stuck like a bad song in the political hive mind is this one: "The GOP Is the Party of Fear."

So said The New Republic shortly before Christmas. The other day, the Washington Post seconded the motion: "Most of the Republican presidential contenders and their allies are now waging campaigns focused on fear," wrote the paper's Matea Gold, in a news story (?) with the thoroughly impartial headline, "With Dark Warnings, GOP Candidates Play to Voters' Fears."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation agrees: "(Donald) Trump has seemingly mastered the demagogic art of fearmongering," she writes. "But he is certainly not alone in cynically sowing fear and hysteria among voters.

Not to be outdone, the New York Daily News recently informed its readers that the GOP is "composed of pandering liars because stoking irrational fear is selling bigtime among gun-obsessed Americans." The ever-moderate Salon blasted "Rand Paul's despicable anti-refugee bill" for "stoking fear and resentment of the vulnerable for political gain." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was "appealing to people's anxieties and insecurities and outright fears" said a White House spokesman. Closer to home, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring ripped "the gun lobby" for "stoking fears and pushing misinformation."

You get the drift.

The only cliché that gets trotted out more than the stoking-fears cliché might be the "cowardly" cliché. In political terminology, a coward is someone who doesn't vote the way a liberal thinks he should. Hence former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' insistence<> that senators who voted against expanded background checks three years ago "caved in to their fear of the corporate gun lobby." That was certainly how CNN's Piers Morgan saw it at the time when he tweeted, "The U.S. senate just voted against expanding background checks for gun sales. What a pathetic, gutless bunch of cowards."

By contrast, George H.W. Bush won a Profile in Courage award for breaking his promise not to raise taxes. Liberals always praise tax hikes as courageous. America needs "the courage to raise taxes," wrote Walter Mondale four years ago, in a piece reminding everyone about the last politician with enough nobility of spirit to call for tax hikes: himself. Raising taxes supposedly is courageous because it is unpopular. By that yardstick Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses, certainly exhibited courage: She stuck to her principles despite withering condemnation from liberals, conservatives, moderates, and libertarians across the country. Don't expect her to win any awards for her stoutheartedness, though.

Last year the JFK Library gave a Profile in Courage award to former Republican congressman Bob Ingliss for, as the Boston Globe put it, "putting his career on the line to call attention to the threat from climate change."

Hold the phone a sec. The threat of climate change is real, but why is warning about it courageous? Anyone who has even dipped a toe into the popular literature on climate change knows its overall thrust boils down to one simple message: "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!"

Climate-change activists and the establishment media, which usually amount to the same thing, are forever warning about the dire consequences that will ensue if mankind does not repent of its sinful ways: Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Rising sea levels wiping out coastal areas and island nations. War. Famine. Disease. Polyester bell-bottoms. Dogs and cats sleeping together.

If that's not "sowing fear and hysteria," then nothing is.

You might have noticed that President Obama and others of his persuasion recently have had a thing or two to say about guns. "The epidemic of gun violence in our country is a crisis," the president wrote in a New York Times op-ed recently—never mind the fact that gun homicide rates have fallen by half since 1993. So why aren't his gun-control efforts considered "dark warnings" that "play to voters' fears"?

Was it "fearmongering" when Nancy Pelosi said "civilization as we know it would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate"? Or when Hillary Clinton wrote that "the rights of women (and) the future of the planet" will be at risk if a Republican gets to appoint more Supreme Court justices? Or when Bernie Sanders said Republicans want to "abolish Social Security"? Or when Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the GOP wants to "take health care away from women"? Or when a campaign ad depicted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff? Or…

To borrow a phrase President Obama often employs, "there are those who say" statements like those might qualify as "sowing fear and hysteria among voters." But then, anyone who dared suggest such a thing during the most important election in history probably would be hitting a new low.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Democrat rhetoric might be pure, unmitiagated spin and not the base assumption about the state of politics. What a novel idea.

  2. There are those who say we are close to a Libertarian Moment. I say that is fear mongering…

    1. bacon-magic, one can take that two ways!

      As a growing number of voters scamper .. from tribal loyalty … to independence … Reason continues defending ONLY Republicans (as a party), never Democrats (as a word) Or attacking the “liberal” word, but not the “conservative” word?

      Go to Seattle. Spend a weekend talking with left-libertarians, who are quite plentiful there. They exist elsewhere too, but they’re the only ones I got to know and work with.

      How can one write book about Independents, and know so little about them?

      Libertarian Moments may be great for fundraising. But the libertarian label is rejected by 91% of libertarians (yell at Cato, not me). The two people most associated with the libertarian label are extreme social conservatives. If someone is an extreme fiscal conservative AND social conservative … when did they stop being labeled extreme conservatives (and proving a libertarian moment)?

      1. If you’re referring to the Pauls, the only thing they are “extremely conservative” on is abortion. Seeing as Ron Paul is an OBGYN who has delivered hundreds of babies, he has more clout than most when it comes to that debate so you can’t fault him for his belief on a topic that typically divides libertarians. Gary Johnson is probably the next most famous “libertarian” after those two and he is more socially “liberal” than most Democrats.

        1. If you’re referring to the Pauls, the only thing they are “extremely conservative” on is abortion.

          Plus marriage equality and Separation, three primary issues for measuring social liberalism and social conservatism.

          Seeing as Ron Paul is an OBGYN who has delivered hundreds of babies, he has more clout than most when it comes to that debate

          Only to his cult. How is an OB/.GYN any more qualified on Individual liberty and unalienable rights?

          so you can’t fault him for his belief on a topic that typically divides libertarians.

          a large majority, by far, is pro-choice.

          Gary Johnson is probably the next most famous “libertarian” after those two and he is more socially “liberal” than most

          That illustrates the cult-like belief.
          1) 59% of Americans are libertarian, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Per the Cato Institute.
          2) Most of the cult has been totally brainwashed on what libertarianism has been for over 40 years
          3) Until recently, the LP Platform was pro-abortion until birth (which I tried to change)
          4) THE most widespread promoter of libertarianism is the World’s Smallest Political Quiz ? which even Ron Paul cannot deny. The Quiz, applies the Nolan, developed in 1969 by the founder of libertarianism. Fiscally conservative, socially liberal

          1. Plus marriage equality and Separation, three primary issues for measuring social liberalism and social conservatism.

            They are Federalists when it suits them, true.

            Only to his cult. How is an OB/.GYN any more qualified on Individual liberty and unalienable rights?

            Name-calling is all you have. An OB/GYN may be more qualified to determine if an unborn has unalienable rights.

            a large majority, by far, is pro-choice.

            Migh majority makes right?

            Most of the cult has been totally brainwashed on what libertarianism has been for over 40 years

            Small “L” libertarianism is NAP. You think it’s “socially liberal and fiscally conservative”. That might have been true once, but “liberal” and “conservative” change meaning over time, NAP doesn’t.

            Until recently, the LP Platform was pro-abortion until birth (which I tried to change)

            Conflating Libertarians with libertarians is useless.

            THE most widespread promoter of libertarianism is the World’s Smallest Political Quiz

            Never heard of it. Really.

            which even Ron Paul cannot deny

            Don’t think that was his mission.

            developed in 1969 by the founder of libertarianism

            The founder of libertarianism was God! Judges 21:25, 1 Samuel 8.

      2. “Reason continues defending ONLY Republicans (as a party), never Democrats (as a word)”

        That’s not true. I’ve seen Reason praise Bernie for his libertarian views on drugs and criminal justice reform, and seen them endlessly attack Trump.

        1. That’s not true.

          It is if you can read.
          Are you not aware that libertarians have been socially liberal since 1969? It’s not just Bernie, but anyone on the traditional left. And the views are NOT libertarian, despite Reason’s bullshit. Not :only” And not “originated by.” Reason loves claiming credit for things they had nothing to do with. School choice would be another. More people SHARE the same values we do, but that was caused by the “Nolan Chart libertarians.” (fiscally conservative and socially liberal.) aka the real ones.

    2. The good news: We’re close to a Libertarian Moment!
      The bad news: It’s on a geological timescale.

      1. +1 Pangea

  3. Democrats are so opposed to the politics of fear that they howl about how the Koch Brothers are buying Democracy when they aren’t too busy caterwauling about mass shootings, despite the fact that you’re more likely to die from a lightning strike than a mass shooting.

    1. DAMN! They’re as much hysterical fear mongers as Republicans?
      The bullshit war on religion. The bullshit threat of Islam. And government itself, with not one credible solution.
      Welcome to Tribal Loyalty.

      1. Michael, why don’t you go back to bed? Your Alzheimer’s medication is making you cranky.

        1. Like I said, “Welcome to tribal loyalty.”
          Libertarian PC.

          1. You sound decidedly not-nice…

            1. Yeah pretty much. According to Hihn, If only libertarians would listen to him, the country would overflow with milk and honey. I can’t imagine why they aren’t.

              1. Woodchippers are frequently confused by aggression vs self-defense. Like its totally uncalled for aggression here.

              2. If only libertarians would listen to him, the country would overflow with milk and honey

                Lying can get truly psychotic, from the self-righteous aggression.
                And, of course, Contraraian never sees the hysterical irony in its statement.

                1. Pot, meet kettle.

  4. Don’t forget about Biden’s classic “put y’all back in chains” moment. A sitting vice president told an audience of black people that Mitt Romney wanted to literally enslave them.

    1. Well, it was uncle Joe. You don’t blame retarded kids for drooling or breaking stuff, do you? Little kids for taking candy off of the shelf?

      Someone wasn’t watching and he got off of his chain for a few minutes. This kind of thing is to be expected.

      1. \’What did you say Joe?I can’t understand you,your retarded?’

    2. And don’t forget Reid’s allegations of income tax fraud that he totally pulled out of his ass, then when confronted with the falsehood later shrugged it off with ‘well, he didn’t win, did he?’.

      “I lied. So what?”

      1. I hope Joe runs…Please let Joe run…

  5. This column is simpleminded, reflexive liberal-bashing, and not what I come to Reason for. The best writers on this site (RIchman, Sullum) make their points persuasively without tossing this kind of red meat to the hounds… so why do the editors take the trouble to import it deliberately? Afraid that libertarianism can’t stand on its own without retaining the least attractive features of wingnut Republicanism?

    1. Richman is your favorite…yikes…

    2. So, pointing out the most facile propaganda of the Democratic Party is “wingnut Republicanism”?

      I bet you believe the last recession was the “worst recession since the Great Depression.” And the recession before that, and the recession before that.

      (And if Richman is persuasive to anyone who isn’t a wingnut anarchist, I’ll eat your balls.)

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