Fear: The Nebulous Boogeyman In The GOP Primaries

December 30, 2011 / 6:15 am • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

The GOP primaries have been awful. I don’t know that they’re more awful than 2008, necessarily. The stakes are the same as they were..or worse. It’s just that people now seem more acutely aware that much is at stake, so there’s more urgency.

The economy feels unstable. That is, the current awful environment feels like it might not be the worst it could be. It could get a lot worse.

Even with the press putting a shiny bow on the Obama administration, the general consensus is that things are going the wrong direction.

And yet, President Obama’s numbers aren’t as low as one would expect. Why?

The answer may be in the GOP field and not all that obvious. The current front runners– Mitt Romney and Ron Paul– have both succeeded the same way Barack Obama succeeded in his difficult primary with Hillary Clinton: by stoking fears and manipulating the unease people feel.

The success of Mitt Romney’s strident and insincere demogoguing over illegal immigration and Ron Paul’s own nativist rhetoric reflect a society in crisis. When it’s too tough to look inward, blame the “other”.

Ron Paul’s hysterics are nothing new. As the success of his newsletters demonstrate, there’s always been a patch on the American quilt possessed of isolationism and paranoia. This year, his message has finally found a bigger home. Everyone is out to get you. It’s not you. It’s them.

Likewise Romney’s forked tongue has worked much the same as Obama’s. He’s subtly divided and nursed insecurity. His big government Republicanism won’t be as bad as Obama’s, but the government will still protect you, from them.

In 2008, Obama won with code words like “fairness” and “enough” and “tax the rich”. You, are being taken advantage of by them.

Fear makes people do stupid things, but it is primal and it is effective as a motivator–for a short time.

Unfortunately, the success of these messages blot out the tough and true message. Things are bad right now. True. Americans have the power to make things better.

That is, each individual can, for his own life, make this better if the government stays out of the way.

The government fixing things hasn’t fixed things. Clearly, this approach has failed.

Still, because of the other fears out there like the looming world crises and the sense that America has yet to hit rock bottom, a stern, solid, and common sense message just hasn’t taken hold.

I do believe people want to hear it. It also seems like they need some serious, solid encouragement.

Are the American people plagued with self-doubt? Maybe. And so many citizens are so busy just making life work that they have little time to consider positive possibilities. From where they sit, one small trouble could tip their balance negatively and has for so many.

Somewhere between, “There, there, little children, we’ll make it all better” (Mitt) and “Get yer guns, they’re comin’ fer ya” there’s a positive message of self-reliance and American exceptionalism.

Mitt’s message is one Obama does better. And Ron Paul’s message is downright frightening.

A note on the latter. I do believe that Ron Paul is resonating with people who fear the government as oppressive and invasive in their lives. His promises of a smaller government are compelling.

Herein lies the schizophrenia of the GOP, and of the nation generally. The American citizenry seems to be like a teenager: wanting to be able to do whatever they want with no government interference but spared consequences when they do something completely stupid.

A truly independent individual cannot have it both ways. Just like a parent gets bossy when it’s their money being spent, the Federal Government likes to manage behavior by monetary manipulation. There are rules, and one must follow them to have favor.

People have to decide: More independence (which will require self-reliance which is the only way to be truly free) or dependence (which will require more rules, more redistribution and less freedom).

It’s agreed that no one wants to bail out big corporations any more, right? Right, GM workers who are surviving, this minute, on the generosity of fellow taxpayers?

Are people willing to be cut off from the strangling hand of the government? That’s not clear at all.

And that’s why this GOP primary feels like being stuck at an empty resort with a psychotic writer. Everyone fears impending doom, the stakes feel so incredibly high, and rather than sensible messages, the leading GOP candidates are stoking real fears and irrational ones.

While Obama’s made nearly every single thing worse, rather than give straight, truthful talk and leadership, Romney and Paul employ similar rhetorical methods.

America could use a calm, thoughtful, optimistic message. It’s certainly not coming from Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Is this the entirety of the explanation about the GOP primary? No, this is a complex race in complex times.

Fear, and the stoking of it, is at least part of the explanation for what we’re seeing, though. And while it’s understandable, it’s tremendously destructive.

America needs sound leadership not fear mongering.