Thursday, February 11, 2010

So We Got “Fear Itself”

The political heirs of President Franklin Roosevelt have turned his most famous inaugural phrase on itself 75 years later. On March 4, 1933, FDR reassured Americans that “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That hour was a moment of maximum national anxiety. Outgoing President Herbert Hoover had not, in the waning hours of his single-term presidency, been able to stem the mounting banking crisis. Everything seemed hopeless. For perhaps the only time in modern American history, there were serious signs and talk of some kind of “revolution.” Roosevelt’s phrase articulated hope at the same time it dashed the national anxiety with common sense.

Many of the liberal Democrats today (and to be fair, some Republicans), however, have adopted a whole amalgam of issues, under the rubric of environmentalism, which are based on fear itself. They have misleadingly contended that their concerns are based solely on science, and therefore irrefutable. This has been developing for some time, and initially these were not political issues. Remember the controversy over DDT, brought on by Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring?” Pesticides were, it was claimed, irrefutably carcinogens. A series of issues subsequently arose, most of them “proven” by scientific evidence, and gradually environmentalism became a political issue. I remember, for example, the brief fear that cranberries were dangerous to eat, because of alleged radiation (based on a “scientific” study). It turns out that cranberries are one of the most healthful fruits to consume. DDT has now been shown NOT to cause cancer, but only after decades of banning DDT pesticides in Africa, with the result that tens of millions have died there from hunger and malaria.

The newest environmental “scientific” cause has been so-called “global warming.” The world was told that overwhelming and irrefutable scientific evidence confirmed that the fact of the (temporary) melting of the Arctic polar caps was caused by man-made industrial pollution of carbon dioxide, and that unless the world’s leading industrial nations voluntarily cease their activity, the world is doomed. It turns out that much of the “scientific” evidence was doctored, that short periods of alternating global warming and cooling are normal and natural, that the connection between melting ice caps and industrial production is NOT irrefutably proven, and finally, that the motivations behind the “global warming” movement are not primarily scientific and humanitarian, but are primarily political; specifically, the redistribution of the world’s wealth and productive capacity. It is important, however, to point out that not all environmental concerns and environmentalist claims are bogus. When the action was taken many years ago to reduce lead levels in gasoline, the quality of the air was dramatically improved as was national health. Tobacco smoke does cause cancer and heart disease, and the restrictions on smoking have clearly improved national and international health. Industrial smoke and chemicals, the use of asbestos, and other toxic materials have also been restricted to the undeniable benefit to workers and urban society. Vaccines and medicine have made extraordinary gains against previously uncontrollable epidemics and disease.

International organizations, most notably the United Nations, have joined the efforts of the bogus environmentalists to try to impose a redistribution of global industrial wealth and activity. Is it any surprise that this is so when the U.N. is controlled by the very nations which stand to gain economically and politically by this redistribution? Does the United Nations have any credibility when its own Commission on Human Rights is controlled by the very countries in the world who are committing the worst abuses of human rights on their own populations?

Most persons in the world are not scientifically trained and expert. There is a need for credibility and common sense when scientific claims are made. Citizens of the world have a right to know what are the motivations and consequences of environmental “movements.” Arrogant manipulation, elitism, and bullying have no place in the international community, especially when it hides behind the rhetoric of science.

All of us are susceptible to normal anxieties and concerns. The world of today, with all of its true scientific advance, still holds many dangers, vulnerabilities and threats. We need to act to diminish these threats and problems when we can. But “fear itself” is no cause for action. When we act out of fear alone, we almost always make matters worse.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tea Party Mood

Although there was some controversy about the Tea Party meeting in Nashville because its organizers made it a for-profit event, and it was expensive to attend, there should be no serious illusions that the grassroots movement it represents, at least in part, is a movement spent of its energy, ambition and ability to shake up the political establishment.

Since it is not a political party, nor even an organization with membership cards, dues and strict definitions of its beliefs and goals, there is no real way at this time to measure the true Tea Party impact on current politics. In the Illinois GOP gubernatorial primary just concluded, for example, there were two serious candidates who appealed to Tea Party voters. Predictably, they split that constituency, but if there had only been one candidate, their combined totals suggest that a Tea Party candidate would now be the Republican nominee for governor.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, herself a figure already prematurely dismissed by many as a spent force in American politics, was the keynote speaker at the Tennessee meeting, and her remarks indicate she continues to be one of the most tuned-in politicians in the U.S. to the undercurrents of the public mood.

President Obama, ironically, is the best political personality going for the Tea Party. His continued refusal to adapt his agenda to the hard facts of the special election in Massachusetts, the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey last year, and now the overwhelming contemporary trend of poll numbers coast-to coast constantly refuels the voter discontent which is the engine of the Tea Party movement.

I have already predicted that Mr. Obama will change his tune soon enough, but instead of changing it on his terms, his delay will make his actions seem desperate and insincere. This is the price he is paying for being a political amateur, in fact (as I have also written in this space previously) the first amateur president of the United States.

To be fair, the organization of the Tea Party is a bottom-up populist phenomenon, and thus an “amateur” movement itself, but it does not bear any responsibility to govern (as do presidents, governors, senators and house members). The Republican Party is the natural heir to the results of the Tea Party movement, but except in Massachusetts, we have little hard evidence yet that the GOP knows how to fully harness this grass roots energy to its political advantage, especially with so many party elders and conservative pundits putting the movement down.

Let’s cut to the rhetorical chase. The Tea Party has arisen because of the ideas, behavior and agenda of the Obama administration and its far left base in the Democratic Party. Tea Party folks are utterly opposed to government-run healthcare and the other radical “social-democratic” laws and programs now proposed and promised ahead.

Mark these words, the longer Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid insist on their agenda, the more rapidly not only will the conservative Tea Party grow, but so will a separate movement among unaffiliated centrist independent voters, many of whom voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008. Rhetorical disguise and costumes will not alter this reality. (Mardi Gras will be over soon.)

The only ones who can rescue the Democratic Party now are its centrist leaders in the Congress and in the state capitals. So far, they have shown little gumption or imagination, and have been rolled over again and again by their more radical colleagues. Apparently, they have a delayed sense of survival because in the election this November coming, it will not be the most liberal politicians (most of them in safe urban districts and states) who will be the first to go. It will instead be these silent centrists, just trying to get along with their noisy and presumptuous more liberal colleagues.

This is what happens to invertebrate politicians, and to regimes which do not seek the consent of the governed.