The military calls this "psyops", ways to wage the war using psychological tricks. The Republicans call it something different, but the idea is the same. Dick Cheney has come out with the clearest statement yet of how fear is employed by the current Bush reselection campaign:
Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday evoked the possibility of terrorists bombing U.S. cities with nuclear weapons and questioned whether Sen. John Kerry could combat such a threat, which the vice president called a concept "you've got to get your mind around."
"The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us — biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans," Cheney said.
"That's the ultimate threat. For us to have a strategy that's capable of defeating that threat, you've got to get your mind around that concept," Cheney said.
Cheney, speaking to an invitation-only crowd as he began a bus tour through Republican strongholds in Ohio, said Kerry is trying to convince voters he would be the same type of "tough, aggressive" leader as President Bush in the fight against terrorism.
"I don't believe it," the vice president said. "I don't think there's any evidence to support the proposition that he would, in fact, do it."
Fear has a useful role in human survival terms, but its use in an election campaign in this way is not useful, particularly when the Bush administration has no obvious plan to protect us against such an attack. For example, most of the freight coming into this country by sea is still totally uninspected. So is the freight that is sent by air.
Compared to that, the question of Kerry's decisiveness is just psyops. The fear is here to stay, and I'd rather have Kerry at the reins than also be scared of what Bush might do in one of his temper tantrums.
In other news, Alan Greenspan, the calm, kind and mysterious head of the Federal Reserves has called the rising trend of bankruptcies "pockets of distress". Or so my radio tells me right now (too lazy to go for link-hunting, and it's raining). I like the idea of pockets of distress, maybe even pants and jackets of distress. Or shoes. And "pockets" also reminds us of all the good stuff we can put in them like money.
Here the idea is to minimize fear, to make it sound something trivial and almost good. Imagine if we called the site of a terrorist attack a pocket of distress...