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There was a time, not so long ago, when my liberal friends wailed at me in outrage over what they claimed was conservatives engaging in “the politics of fear.” Nothing could be worse, they said, than avoiding the “real issues” by trying to scare people.
This reached a crescendo in 2008 when President Obama was still just a candidate and liberals were convinced that every criticism of his statements, policy proposals or political philosophy was really just racist code designed to frighten voters.
Didn’t work, obviously. But the politics of fear is now very much a bipartisan thing. This year’s mid-term elections, still seven months away, are looking like they will be the campaign of the bogeyman, or woman.
It is not new; it has a long, tired, absurd history. Back in the '90s, it didn’t matter who various Democrats were running against because they would spend most of the time pretending they were running against Newt Gingrich, the increasingly unpopular speaker of the House. Republicans generally pretended they were running against Ted Kennedy, the late U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who was very rich and very liberal.
This year, Democrats are going to be running against a couple of guys who aren’t even in office – the billionaire Koch brothers. Republicans, no matter their home state, will pretend they are taking on yet another increasingly unpopular former speaker of the House, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, of California.
If you believe all the things that are said, and will be said, about them over the next seven months, you’ll probably want to hide your kids – maybe even hide yourself – if you so much as see one of these people on TV. Who wants to risk being under the influence of such satanic forces?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a tough time getting through a comment on anything partisan without vilifying the Koch brothers. He has called them “un-American,” but that is apparently not good enough for those in the fever swamps of the Left, who have now taken to calling them and other rich conservatives “oligarchs.” You know, like the super-rich Russians who want wealth to rule the country. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
It is true that the Koch brothers are fabulously wealthy, thanks in large measure to their father building an oil refinery business. They are politically active, donating millions to conservative and libertarian causes.
But, how are they any different, other than political philosophy, from left-wing billionaires who are just as politically active? George Soros is a hedge fund billionaire who made part of his fortune shorting the British pound in 1992. For years he has donated millions to liberal causes and groups that support Democratic candidates. Tom Steyer, who made a chunk of his fortune from the oil business, is another. Al Gore, vice president during the Clinton administration, made some of his millions selling his cable TV station to Al Jazeera, the TV network built with Qatari oil money.
Maybe donations from the rich ought to be limited to what the “average” American could donate, but that is an entirely separate argument. If the Koch brothers are evil because they are rich, then so are Soros, Steyer, Gore and a long list of others.
When it comes to which is the “party of the rich,” it’s also worth noting that Democrats represent eight of the ten wealthiest congressional districts in the country. And, for a long time, there have been more Democratic millionaires in Congress than Republicans. One of them is Nancy Pelosi, with an estimated net worth of $58 million.
But that is not the major reason she is a major “bogeywoman” for conservatives. I have little respect for Pelosi, who brings hypocrisy to a new level almost every time she opens her mouth. One of the most blatant examples is her declaration that when Democrats would “drain the swamp” of political corruption when they gained control of both houses of Congress.
Since then plenty of members of her party have engaged in the same or worse corruption - California state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democratic gun-control advocate who the FBI says has been an illegal firearms dealer, comes to mind - Pelosi's sense of outrage vanishes.
But the main reason Republicans want to demonize her is because she has been a very effective party leader, even as House minority leader, whipping her troops in line much more effectively than current Republican Speaker John Boehner.
And it’s silly to try to scare voters because she has used her power, which all politicians seek to do, just as it's silly to try to scare voters because somebody is rich.
Perhaps both parties are signing onto Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” which recommends looking for ways to “increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty" and “go after people and not institutions.” His most famous rule is No. 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.”
You know, like calling someone an “oligarch.”
Trying to scare voters by turning certain people into bogeymen is a transparent attempt to distract from the “issues” that we all claim should be foremost in a political campaign.
Why can’t the pronouncements of the Kochs and Pelosi be judged on their merits, rather than on how much money or power they have?
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org