Opinion polls indicate that, in this electoral season, terrorism is no longer at, or even near, the top of the American agenda of worries. Right now, it tends to fall far down lists of “the most important issue to face this country” (though significantly higher among Republicans than Democrats or independents). Nonetheless, don’t for a second think that the subject isn’t lodged deep in national consciousness. When asked recently by the pollsters of CNN/Opinion Research Corporation: “How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism,” a striking 39% of Americans were either “very worried” or “somewhat worried”; another 33% registered as “not too worried.” These figures might seem reasonable in New York City, but nationally? As the Democratic debate Saturday indicated, the politics of security and fear have been deeply implanted in our midst, as well as in media and political consciousness. Even candidates who proclaim themselves against “the politics of fear” (and many don’t) are repeatedly forced to take care of fear’s rhetorical business.
Imagining how a new president and a new administration might begin to make their way out of this mindset, out of a preoccupation guaranteed to solve no problems and exacerbate many, is almost as hard as imagining a world without al-Qaeda. After all, this particular obsession has been built into our institutions, from Guantanamo to the Department of Homeland Security. It’s had the time to sink its roots into fertile soil; it now has its own industries, lobbying groups, profit centers. Unbuilding it will be a formidable task indeed. Here, then — a year early — is a Bush legacy that no new president is likely to reverse soon.
Ask yourself honestly: Can you imagine a future America without a Department of Homeland Security? Can you imagine a new administration ending the global lockdown that has become synonymous with Americanism?
The Bush administration will go, but the job it’s done on us won’t. That is the sad truth of our presidential campaign moment. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — That we acquire “the wisdom of insecurity” is one of our needs in these times. In the current populist rhetoric, fear is being contrasted with hope. But along with hope we also need courage. To be courageous is to take risks and see the limits of security. Whether the Bush legacy is so entrenched that it cannot be reversed by the next president will have a great deal to do with who puts the next president into office. This is what makes this election in so many ways, a generational watershed. The young see in risk, opportunity, while for the older generation, there, lurks danger. Yet like it or not, the older generation eventually has no choice but to resign itself to the fact that those it deems too inexperienced will necessarily be the ones who shape the future.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks against the United States, President George W. Bush and many other perplexed, angry and often ignorant Americans asked a question: “Why do they hate us?” Then they made a statement: “You’re either with us or against us.” This week, those Americans who are actually interested in answering the question and exploring the validity of the statement have a very good opportunity to grasp precisely why most people around the world admire the US but also detest many aspects of its foreign policy. This revelatory moment comprises two simultaneous events this week: the competitive American party primaries, and Bush’s journey to the Middle East. The contrast between the two events is substantial, and very revealing of the best and worst of American political culture. [complete article]