Speaker by Various Artists

The politics of fear

by David Williams

Who would've thought it? We have the first $1 billion US presidential campaign and it turns out that George Bush's re-election fight is based on a bumper sticker!

You know the one. I used to see it when I was a kid, the one being said by a political chicken: "Less Taxes, Less Government = More Freedom".

Maybe I'm being a little facetious, but keep that sticker in mind when you read this from Bush:

You've got more money in your pocket as a result of the tax relief we passed and he (John Kerry) opposed.

If you have a child, you got a $1000 child credit. That's money in your pocket.

If you're married, we reduced the marriage penalty. The code ought to encourage marriage, not discourage marriage.

We created a 10 percent bracket to help lower-income Americans. A family of four making $40,000 received about $1,700 in tax relief.

It's your money. The way my opponent talks, he said, "We're going to spend the government's money." No, we're spending your money. And when you have more money in your pocket, you're able to better afford things you want.

I believe the role of government is to stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize their dreams, not tell citizens how to live their lives.

It's hard to sum up an election in one short passage, but while listening to President Bush yesterday I couldn't help thinking that quote could accurately portray where this campaign will be won or lost.

Depending on if you're a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" kind of person, you could see Bush's statement as optimism or propaganda. I see it as the latter, and in the president's words I see a message we'll have repeated over and over during the rest of the campaign - vote for me or all the money you've been given will be taken away. It's the basis of a campaign of fear and, considering what happened in Australia, that's a scary thought.

Being a Kiwi who's just moved to Australia, and therefore not being able to vote, I was in Melbourne for the Aussie election. Heading into Richmond at about 10pm on Saturday I stumbled across a freshly written sign (you could smell how fresh) painted on some poor, unfortunate's front wall. I can't remember the exact quote, but it is easily summed up by the last two words: "Fear wins".

As noted in The Economist, John Howard won his third term on fear of asylum seekers. It speculated he might win his fourth term on fear of rising interest rates. Apathetic people I spoke to said, "We didn't want to risk a change", "People are saying they're sick of changes. They're looking for stability". Yes, Howard detractors would have asked, but at what cost?

The same applies to America, but there is much, much more at stake. While Russell calls Sean Penn's open letter to Trey Parker and Matt Stone pompous, I think, in this context, his comments are worth revisiting.

I never mind being of service, in satire and silliness. I do mind when anybody who doesn't have a child, doesn't have a child at war, or isn't or won't be in harm's way themselves, is encouraging that there's "no shame in not voting" "if you don't know what you're talking about"...

It's all well to joke about me or whomever you choose. Not so well, to encourage irresponsibility that will ultimately lead to the disembowelment, mutilation, exploitation, and death of innocent people throughout the world.

The vote matters to them.

Leaving aside whether you support the tone of his letter, Sean's poison pen does ask every American what they think is at stake here, not just for them but for the rest of the world. Ask a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray or Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq what this vote means to them and you won't get any apathy.

Back to the bumper sticker. I believe the cornerstone of Bush's campaign is based on fear and apathy. He's telling

Americans how much money he's stuffed into their pockets and he wants them to believe that if Kerry's elected it will all be taken away. That may in fact be true, but what the president isn't saying (at least, it's not something I've read) is how he intends to reduce the deficit in half by five years - his stated goal. Bush may attack Kerry for the costing of his policies, but his own level of detail was lacking in the third debate. All we got was: "It requires pro-growth policies that grow our economy and fiscal sanity in the halls of Congress."

In his address to the Republican National Convention, Bush urged the party faithful to check out his website. So, in need of an answer to this key question, I did. Last night, however, there was no such website.

So I shot over to the Whitehouse website. I struck gold! With a headline like "More to Do: The President's Plan to Create More Jobs, Security, and Opportunity in a Growing Economy" I thought I'd find a detailed breakdown of how Bush is going to pay for his economic policies. Instead, I found this six-point plan:

Allows families to plan for the future by making tax relief permanent.

Encourages investment and expansion by restraining Federal spending and reducing regulation.

Makes our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy through a comprehensive national energy policy.

Expands trade and levels the playing field to sell American goods and services across the globe.

Protects small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America.

Lowers the cost of health care for small businesses and working families through Association Health Plans, tax-free

Health Savings Accounts, tax credits for employer contributions to Health Savings Accounts, and Medical Liability Reform.

Again all I see is "spend, spend, spend", yet he's the one quibbling about whether Kerry's repeal of his "tax cuts for the rich" will amount to $600 billion or $800 billion. Why doesn't anyone ask where he's getting HIS money from, and how all this spending and deregulation is reducing the deficit HE'S responsible for?

More of a worry, quite frankly, are his thoughts on the role of government. (Remember, the bumper sticker read: "Less Taxes, Less Government = More Freedom".) Earlier, quoting from the debate, Bush said: government should "stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize their dreams, not tell citizens how to live their lives". Err, that's actually called anarchy George. And it's a special sort of economic anarchy that he proposes. Bush is proposing giving control of social security money to young people. Is he mad? Doesn't he know what young people do with their money?

(It's worth noting that Kerry was right when he said that Bush's taxes cuts favoured the richest 10% of the country. However he's no angel and made some errors himself.)

Unless people start listening to what is being said and caring about finding out the answers to basic questions, another election will be won on fear. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, at what cost?? Argh!

Just when I was about to pop a vein in my temple from frustration, the pressure was syphoned by a little gem, a little glittering light in the doom and gloom that is George Bush's election campaign. With a tension-easing chuckle, I found another bumper sticker which could adequately sum up Bush's campaign on this particular website: "Bush '04, Quagmire Accomplished".