The Politics of Fear vs. The Politics of Reason

by George Kennedy on November 15, 2011



The politics of fear, divisiveness, and character assassination are a permanent plank in Republican campaign orthodoxy. Absent any rational policy prescriptions to address urgent national needs – especially policies that would elevate the interests of people over private capital and the acquisition of power – the preferred approach in a political campaign is to destroy the character of those who would differ with them. The Republicans’ latest high-value target is Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.

Warren is the uncommon Democrat who does not shrink from the customary Republican ad hominen attacks. Moreover, her fierce moral allegiance to the middle class is not for sale. These two qualities make her a particularly dangerous adversary. Scott Brown and his Wall Street allies struggle to inflict the wound that will cripple Warren’s candidacy. The results after several months of campaigning suggest that her message is resonating and her candidacy is on solid ground.

Why is it that a plain-spoken Harvard professor-turned-passionate-advocate-for-the-middle-class strikes such fear in the hearts of Karl Rove and his super-PAC, Wall Street titans, and Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary? Let’s be clear, Warren holds no elected office (the Republicans in the Senate, President Obama, and their corporate benefactors eliminated that possibility), directs no organization, and is not a national figure. She works for a living as a Harvard law professor.

Elizabeth Warren is the antithesis of Republican dogma: she uses reason, logic, facts, and history to make her case. When was the last time her detractors employed this approach to advance an argument?
Over the last three decades, the politics of fear have reaped considerable dividends for the 1 percent in America; too often with the unwitting support of major elements within the 99 percent. The strategy of pitting Americans against other Americans does work surprisingly well, especially in a climate of fear, frustration, and uncertainty.
Enter a small ray of hope in the personage of Elizabeth Warren whose simple but powerful eloquence presages hope – hope that someone will actually advocate for the rest of society, and more immediately, the citizens of Massachusetts.

Citizens of that great state are enraged about structural inequality and lack of opportunity, and Senator Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) fealty to Wall Street. Brown is reported to possess the largest cache of Wall Street campaign funds of any sitting Senator even though he voted for Dodd-Frank. Warren, on the other hand, provides a face and a voice to channel the hopes of the citizens of Massachusetts for a fair deal: income security for the rest of us.

Warren is not a shill for a cause; she is the real deal. She is the passionate warrior against the crony capitalists of the corporate elite willing to leave “blood and teeth on the floor.” It is this latter quality which distinguishes her as the uncommon Democrat. Moreover, she is in no one’s pocket unlike the Democrats who also opposed her confirmation as the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new government agency set up to protect consumers from abusive lending practices. Remember, it was Tim Geithner and Larry Summers who advised Obama, “First, do no harm” (to Wall Street). Warren was the “pain in the rear.” Senate Democrats may admire her grit, her steely determination but, they, too, in the words of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, are the other half of the Washington morass.

Warren’s arsenal is comprised of uncommon weapons in today’s Washington: integrity, honesty, fearlessness in the face of opposition, and a passion for a forgotten cause – ordinary Americans. The most powerful weapon at her disposal is knowledge i.e, information and an intimate understanding of how, why, and where the system is stacked against the American consumer. Warren can reason her way through the convoluted lexicon of the financial industry and consumer contracts and make both understood in your living room.

Lacking guile and duplicitousness, she connects when she communicates and, for this, she has earned the enmity of a powerful alliance of bankers, lobbyists, and politicians. In appearances before the powerful House Committee on Financial Services, on network television, and in public forums, Warren outlines in detail the impact on middle-class Americans of deregulation in the financial industry: rising consumer debt levels and personal bankruptcies.

Because of Warren, the 99 percent are asking questions; they are feeling empowered to make decisions that affect the largest and most dominant financial institutions in America today: hundreds of thousands of depositors recently withdrew accounts from the Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citibank and reopened accounts with credit unions. The numbers of such transfers were unprecedented.

The power of reason meets the forces of fear and the outcome is no longer pre-ordained. When white-collar criminals are brought before the bar of justice and the evidence points to conviction, there is the iconic image of the defendant grimacing while fingering a collar that is suddenly too tight?

The smugness disappears. The electability of Warren suggests a similar level of discomfort to the banking and housing industry elite in particular. Look at Warren’s senate candidacy this way: the threat of a new sheriff in town.
In a public meeting with the greedy cattle barons and the local bankers, she is asked why she is running for sheriff. In response, she says, “We cannot run our country without a strong middle class. We cannot run a democracy without a strong middle class. If we hollow out the middle class, then the country we know is gone.”
To this, she would add that she is a strong advocate for workers’ rights and the tightening of loopholes that favor big business. For this, she is attacked as “a socialist” in the best traditions of Che Guevara. What is so ironic is that those who attack her are as fierce an advocate for the rights, powers, privileges, and bottom lines of the 1 percent as she is an advocate for the survival of the 99 percent.

It is the hope of the good citizens of Massachusetts that this daughter of Midwestern soil who speaks truth to power and stiffens the political spine of a President to confront his critics, if elected, will represent the vanguard of an era of progressive, transparent, and responsible leadership in Washington.

The forces of greed and power are well entrenched in America – aided and abetted by every Administration since Reagan, and they do not give up easily. Elizabeth Warren brings a level of reason and competence that unnerves mediocrity, “old-boyism”, and those who trade political favors for cash. Hers is a moral force empowered by a citizenry disappointed in its elected officials, fearful for their futures, and clinging to the hope that just maybe, this time, the champion they elect will be theirs. The odds may be tough but that is the nature of the human spirit. Reason may ultimately prevail.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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