The more I think about it, the more President Bush reminds me of the boy in the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The only difference is that in the fable the townspeople eventually stop believing the young upstart, whereas in America we continue to trust a man who time and time again cries “wolf” when there are nothing but sheep.
Bush has been the most effective politician since Joe McCarthy at winning using public fear and hysteria to advance his political agenda. Unlike McCarthy, Bush does his thing with a wink and a smile, and expounds sugarcoated words like “freedom” and “liberty,” all the while telling us that if we don’t support him we can expect the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride over the horizon in due time.
It wouldn’t be so scary if it weren’t so damned effective. Almost all of Bush’s major policy objectives have been accomplished through the manipulation of the politics of fear. And now, with the battle over Social Security reform looming, the Bush administration has once again decided to resort to its most potent strategy: Scare the people into supporting your position, regardless of pesky things like “truth.”
Social security is a pay-as-you-go post-retirement program in which the working public puts a part of their pay into a fund that shoots out checks to retired seniors. A major problem with this program is that after the baby boomers retire, the system won’t be able to sustain itself for when we – yes, 20-year-olds, you and I – retire.
Yes, Social Security has a growing problem, but it is just that – a problem. There are ways of fixing it without having to overhaul the entire system. But if you’ve turned on Fox News recently, you’d get the impression that not only is Social Security a problem, it is a “crisis” that in addition to self-destructing, will kill your firstborn son.
We have almost 50 years before Social Security is projected to be bankrupt. Yet the Bush administration continues to insist that it’s a “crisis” of epic proportions and that it must be fixed through privatization. We must destroy the village in order to save it, the Bush logic goes, and we all know how well that strategy worked in the Vietnam War. How we’ll pay for the multitrillion-dollar hole this will leave is but a detail. Bush has ruled out raising taxes because, well, that would be fiscally sound, and we don’t want that.
All in all, the Bush tactics on the issue of Social Security should surprise no one. It is a manifestation of the exact same strategy he used to promote the war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act and his re-election. In all of these instances, he’s cried “wolf” and the American people have rushed to support him.
In the wake of 9/11, at the apex of American fear and hysteria, Bush used the opportunity to pass the PATRIOT Act, an unprecedented repeal of American civil liberties and a blatant violation of our privacy rights. To this day, a terrorist has yet to be tried and convicted as a result of the PATRIOT Act. Yet instead of teaching Bush a lesson in bad public policy, the only thing 9/11 taught him was that when the public is afraid it will support anything. He took this lesson and applied it to Iraq. Day after day, we saw Bush’s dispatched cronies make wild claims of a weapons-of-mass-destruction program that would kill us all unless we struck first. A few weeks ago, the WMD search team finally called it quits. The Bush administration itself gave up on its circus of lies, but it got away with crying “wolf” once again.
During the November presidential election, the Bush campaign theme was best summed up by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said, “If we make the wrong choice then the danger is that … we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating.” They succeeded where P. Diddy could not – they convinced voters to either vote or die. If the Social Security debate is any indication of the future, it is clear that Bush is not backing off from his tried-and-true strategy. There’s no reason why he should – it has worked every time before. In the end, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Neil Visalvanich is a Daily Nexus columnist.