PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
ROVE PRODUCES THEATER OF FEAR
Congress is set to make it legal for the U.S. government to kidnap and torture pretty much anyone, any time, anywhere. Now our lawmakers are moving on to other things. There’s a homeland security funding bill to pass. And there’s the ever-vexing problem of immigration.
Hey, here’s an idea: Why not deal with both issues in the same bill? Actually, the Republicans have already thought of that. They’re attaching immigration “reforms” to the homeland security bill. If Democrats want to stop the GOP’s anti-immigrant measures, they’ll have to vote against funding the Department of Homeland Security.
As the Washington Post informs us, “Homeland Security Bill Is More Style Than Substance, Analysts Say.” Even at the conservative Heritage Foundation, senior research fellow James Jay Carafano admits that "most of it, quite frankly, is a lot of political theater."
Which is exactly why it makes sense to put new immigration laws in the homeland security bill. It’s all part of the same theatrical drama: “Are We Safe?”, starring George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, written, produced, and directed by Karl Rove.
You know the basic plot: The United States of America, the innocent ingenue, is threatened by evildoers on every front. If we
don’t fight ‘em in
It’s a theater of fear -- and a theater of the absurd.
But with a devastating loss looming in the Congressional election, Rove has no
other card to play. So he is betting that his production will pack in the
Advocates of draconian immigration laws talk about
issues of justice and fairness and the financial woes of
But Americans encounter more and more people every day
who speak a foreign language. So it’s easy to persuade them that the
immigration laws aren’t working. The literal walls in places like
Of course it’s all irrational. The foreign language
speakers that most
Yet all those logical considerations are overriden by emotion. The emotion is triggered by old images -- the “lazy foreigner,” the “dirty foreigner,” the “alien” -- that are woven together into a widespread cultural story. Robert Reich aptly calls it “the mob at the gates.” People who worry about open gates, crumbling walls, and porous borders are obviously insecure. They need to feel safe, and they feel that the boundaries they’ve counted on for protection are no longer doing the job.
It’s hardly surprising that people who have seen the
From now until election day,
Republicans will be whipping up that anxiety, painting a picture of a global
network of “terrorists” busy killing our friends and planning to kill us.
They’ll build their campaign around the “I” words:
The Republicans won’t have to spell out the connections. They can just drop hints and count on millions of insecure Americans to connect the dots by themselves. Insecure people are quick to see threats everywhere and to link those threats together, often unconsciously, into a single network of impending danger. Republicans have been relying on this technique to dominate the White House for over a half a century, and in the last few years they’ve used it to dominate Congress too.
In poll after poll, most voters endorse the Democrats’
position on every major issue but one:
“Which party can best keep
So what’s a Dem to do? Some try to outdo the Republicans at their own game, insisting that the dangers are real but the Democrats can actually keep up stronger protective walls. It may work, sometimes, in the short run. In the long run, though, it’s a game the Democrats can’t win. When they focus on insecurity they whip it up, and that plays right into the only strength the Republicans have, as Karl Rove well knows. He wants to goad his opponents into an endless debate about who is tougher against terrorists, immigrants, and all of our supposed enemies.
The real challenge for the Democrats is to resist getting sucked into that debate. They have to redirect the political debate to a very different question: Which party can create a better life for the average American. It shouldn’t be that hard, if the Dems are willing to focus confidently on their own strengths: good-paying jobs, decent health care and education for all, serious environmental protections—all those things that the polls tell us a majority of Americans really want and care about. If the name of the play is “How Can We Have A Better Life?”, Bush and Cheney won’t even get bit parts.
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