Friday, December 18, 2015

The "Undercard" GOP Presidential Debate: Be Afraid!

Republican presidential candidates sparred during another debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15th, with ISIS and national security as hot topics for the night. The "undercard" debate at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino featured New York Governor George Pataki, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Some Republican candidates are kindling fear among voters, pointing to Islamic extremism as an ongoing danger to America. As these quotes from a New York Times debate transcript demonstrate, some undercard debate participants used fear-based rhetoric as a campaign strategy. For example, Santorum warned the audience that America has entered "World War III", but that President Obama is supposedly in denial about it.
SANTORUM: This is an important time in our country’s history. We have entered World War III. World War III has begun and we have a leader who refuses to identify it and be truthful to the American people to the stakes that are involved, in part, because his policies have led us here.
Huckabee claimed that recent violence has left the American people frightened, and that their fear is exacerbated by a government they supposedly can't trust. Huckabee spoke of genuine threats (extremist violence) and imagined threats (Syrian refugees) in the same breath.
HUCKABEE: Americans are not only angry — angry at their government that they feel like has failed them, been indifferent to them, cost them their livelihoods — but they’re in addition to angry, they’re just plain scared. They’re scared when they thing that they go to a Christmas party and get shot at by somebody who sat and had lunch with them an hour earlier. They’re scared when they realize that our government, who promises that it can vet people and is begging us to approve bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into this country, can’t even catch somebody after a third background check, who had posted things on social media clearly indicating she wanted to kill Americans. And we couldn’t catch that. We’ve lost confidence in our government. And when Americans lose confidence in their government, we’re in a dangerous place. We’re in danger because we have an enemy that is out to kill us, and we have a government that we don’t trust any more. This election is about going back to having a government we can trust with leaders who have the courage and conviction to actually lead and not follow.
The usual themes emerge: America is in danger, citizens should feel fear, and Obama's administration can't protect us. Such candidates then present themselves as an antidote to that fear, as a strong protector who will supposedly lead America back to safety. Trump, Huckabee, and Santorum are among the Republican candidates using fear as a campaign strategy -- fear of refugees, fear of Muslims, and fear of the government.

Fortunately, some of the input from Graham and Pataki was more measured. Graham acknowledged that Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric is destructive because it fails to distinguish reasonable Muslims from Islamic extremists, and because such language is not conducive to international cooperation.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: ...The good news for everybody in this room is, after 36 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, most people over there, Wolf, are not buying what ISIL’s selling. This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do. Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just believe in dancing. This is a coup for them, and to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt, I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together. People in the faith to all over the world destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.
Pataki, too, disagreed with the anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from some quarters. In the wake of Trump's inflammatory comments about Muslims, Pataki noted that discrimination based on religion is immoral and unconstitutional.
GEORGE PATAKI: To target a religion and say that regardless of whether you’re an American soldier who has fought on our side or allies we have overseas, simply because of your religion we’re going to ban you is un-American, it is unconstitutional and it is wrong. And by the way, Wolf, now there was a group that tried to do that 150 to 160 years ago, they were called the Know-Nothing Party. They wanted to ban Catholics. They thought they were going to destroy America.
Fear can be a powerful motivator, and several Republicans are using fear to draw support for their presidential campaigns. Voters must learn how to distinguish rational fears from irrational fears, lest they be duped by manipulative politicians. Voters must channel their fear into constructive political and social actions, not into xenophobia, paranoia, and scapegoating. In time, we'll see if fear produces votes for fear-mongering candidates, or if a saner candidate prevails.


  1. Fear is all the GOP has to offer. Perhaps that is why Republicans seem to like Donald Trump? They mistake bloviating swagger for strength.

    1. Agi Tater -- If Republican voters are foolish enough to elect Trump, they'll discover that macho swagger and strong leadership are NOT the same thing. Let's hope that day never comes.


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