by Joseph Hughes, Tue Apr 18, 2006 at 09:23:37 AM EDT
Think about it for a moment. Look at the headlines and you can't escape it. Immigration. Iran. Constitutional bans on gay marriage and flag burning. Bush defending his positions. Congressional Republicans distancing themselves from their president. No matter where you turn, you're confronted with a panicked party gambling with America's future at a time when serious, capable leadership is most needed.
Again, we find ourselves on the eve of a pre-emptive attack on another nation. Only this time, the administration's needless, fearful urgency will have far worse implications than it did in Iraq. Why attack now? Why now, when it's clear that Iran is years away from posing the threat the administration would have us fear? Why now, when our military is already overextended in Iraq? Why now, when the administration's staunchest allies are backing away from the military option and former generals are asking for Donald Rumsfeld's job?
Panic, that's why. Panic over nosediving popular support. Panic over the threat of a disastrous Republican defeat this fall. Panic over maintaining control of the oil supply. Panic over the specter of a more prosperous Iran being harder to overthrow. What was once a position of strength with Iran has evolved into a position of weakness. And this transformation has caused a panic-stricken administration to lead us to the brink of war.
Panic is also at the heart of the immigration debate. While racism is most definitely at play, so, too, is a panicked reaction to the inflated threat of terrorism. Republicans have turned a complex issue into yet another simplistic, wrong-headed interpretation of reality. All because Republicans can't govern without using fear and bigotry to shape the debate.
If the administration really wanted to do something about the terror threat, perhaps they would have more closely questioned the Dubai ports deal. Or done more to secure America's nuclear and chemical plants, as well as other vulnerable facilities. Or not outed an undercover CIA operative whose job it was to help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Instead of doing those things, however, they panicked. They saw another chance to scare Americans into irrational action and they exploited it. They knew that nothing plays better with their base than fear, so they decided to turn people seeking a better life into terrorists seeking to destroy our way of life. What could have been an opportunity to debate a hot-button issue in a rational manner has now become anything but. All because Republicans couldn't help themselves.
Republicans, if you think about it, are a rather fearful bunch. Afraid of change, they fight it, embracing dying models while scrambling to legislate their morality on the rest of us. Don't look for that trend to change this year, as Congressional Republicans are planning on bringing gay marriage bans, anti-flag burning legislation and further abortion restrictions to a vote.
Think of the pressing issues America faces. Millions without health insurance. A vanishing middle class. Exploding gas prices. The quagmire in Iraq. Yet, Republicans would rather focus on flag burning? Because, apparently, there's no greater threat to American democracy than a burning flag. Or two loving people getting married. Or women exercising control over their own bodies.
In reality, the threat that worries Republicans most is losing their majority. They're not blind. They see the same numbers Democrats do. So, like everything else, they're panicking. Worried about what may already be inevitable, Republicans are doing what comes naturally: They're pandering to their base. Shouldn't our government serve every American, not just an extremist minority?
Largely, Republican voters view their elected officials the same way young children see their parents. Children look to their parents, whom they see as invincible, to protect them from the big, bad monsters under their bed. However, elected Republicans, while trying to promote the view of Republican-leaders-as-strong-parents, adhere more closely to the worldview of a panic-stricken child.
There's a lot to be said for characterizing Republicans as weak. It's true, but why not take it a step further? Anyone can suffer moments of weakness. It's how you respond to weakness that characterizes true leadership. Republicans are responding to their weakness by panicking. Think of everything that's happened since September 11. Hard to find any administration action not done out of panic, isn't it?
The "Republicans panic" frame works for several reasons. It works because the charge is impossible to rebut without sounding defensive. It works because so many administration actions fit the panic narrative. It works because everyone can relate to so basic a response. People know panic. And people dislike it.
Americans want a lot of things out of their leaders. They want honesty. They want integrity. They want ability. What Americans don't want is panic. But panic, sadly, is what they're getting in massive doses from the Republican Party. In these challenging times, is panic the trait you want most associated with the party in power? I doubt it.