By Guy Reel
Somewhere deep inside the authoritarian minds of the ultra right-wingers, the fear, helplessness and paranoia that have always been so evident have reached the boiling point. For them, Obama's election and, perhaps even more so, the sight of him standing on the Capitol steps and taking the oath of office, have brought home a grim truth. They have tried to deny it for many years now, but America is not what they think it is. And because of their own incompetence, blindness to reality and the changing demographics among voters - the growing minorities and young voters who have rejected the GOP - they have lost America, perhaps for good.
And so now we hear, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, their wish of failure (and perhaps worse) for America.
Karl Rove and Marc Thiessen, the former chief White House speechwriter, have been warning that Obama's new anti-terror policies (such as closing Guantanamo Bay, prohibiting torture and stopping rendition to CIA black sites) may put the nation at risk. In The Washington Post, Thiessen wrote, "If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible - and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation."
One can read the anticipation between the lines - "When there's a terrorist attack, Republicans will rule again because that will prove Obama was wrong and Bush was right!"
Well, of course it would do nothing of the sort. First, there is no evidence that any of Bush's anti-American policies - illegal wiretapping, coercive interrogations, extraordinary renditions, or holding people without charges, lawyers or trials - have prevented any attacks. In fact, most military and intelligence personnel agree that these policies have increased terrorist recruiting and made American less safe. They have also resulted in far more terrorist attacks around the world.
Bush and Dick Cheney made similar claims during their beauty pageant goodbye strolls while completing their terms in office. The most important legacy for them is that there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. after 9/11, and they argued that Obama's reversals of Bush's policies could invite future attacks. That argument is utter nonsense.
Leave aside the fact that more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died, many from terrorist attacks, and that more than 150,000 Iraqis have died, many from terrorist bombings, and that hundreds more died in terrorist assaults in London and Madrid and India and Indonesia and elsewhere. Even had none of these things happened, the cause-and-effect argument simply isn't logical. It's just after-the-fact rationalization.
There is also no reason to think that most people will blame Obama if terrorists strike again, even though that's what all this noise from the right wing is about - laying the groundwork to blame the new president. Despite the evidence that the Bush administration ignored blatant warnings about 9/11, went on vacation and did nothing to stop the attacks, Americans rallied around Bush. They would likely do the same with Obama.
Now there is fear-mongering about what would happen were we to grant some rights to offenders at Guantanamo - that some would go free and incite violence against us. Well, here's a news flash: That has already happened, under Bush. The U.S. has already released more than 400 prisoners from Guantanamo, many held for years without any legal rights whatsoever. Some have simply gone home. But some have taken up arms against us (perhaps some of them because they were held without cause). The New York Times reported that one became the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and is suspected of involvement in the bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen in September.
Where are the howls of protest about this outrage? If this happens under an Obama administration, the Limbaughs and the Hannitys will be calling for his head. But, in their blind devotion to Bush, they say nothing about policies that led to an arrest and incarceration of a terrorist but were so ill-conceived and poorly managed that they forced his release. Similarly, some charges against terrorists have been or will be thrown out because Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush allowed their torture. The very policy they so lovingly embraced has actually helped the enemy.
But that actually isn't that surprising. Right-wingers have always seemed to have a strange enthusiasm for the things terrorists do and say, then they react in a way that helps the terrorists. The administration based U.S. military and foreign policy on what the terrorists said they were going to do - imagine, running U.S. policy based on the lies and threats of a bunch of wanton murderers. Bush put the country trillions more into debt to fight wars and finance tax cuts for the rich so that he could say we were taking the fight to the terrorists but could still go shopping. He let terrorists' threats lead him to ignore the Constitution, erode our moral standing in the world and drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies. And his policies have allowed murders to go free and kill again - exactly what the right-wing claims Obama is going to do.
So it's not much of a stretch to think that, somewhere deep down, some in the extreme right wing will gain a smug satisfaction if terrorists do strike again in America. They can't wait for the blame game to start. People like Rush Limbaugh and Rove and Sarah Palin seem to think that liberals hate America. But, who, really, are the haters?
Limbaugh and many of his listeners have said they hope Obama will fail. That means they want America to fail. Or, at least, they want the kind of America that Obama stands for to fail - you know, the one where civil liberties are respected, where the rule of law prevails, where a multi-lateral foreign policy is embraced to increase homeland security, and where an African-American Democrat can become president.
They hate the America that is a liberal democracy, which it has been through most of its history. They hate the idea of equal protection for gays, of rights for the accused. They hate the idea of any kind of social welfare. This is a group that would destroy an entire industry because they hate the union workers who are fighting for better health care and wages. Yet they barely bat an eye at millions stolen by CEOs and investment bankers who raped their companies and banks and gave away billions in bonuses while the economy collapsed all around.
During the run-up to Obama's inauguration, some newspapers ran series of interviews with people about their hopes and fears for the new presidency.
The hopes, mostly from Democrats: New and more accountable foreign policy, less cronyism, less corruption, more fiscal responsibility, and more moral accountability in government.
The fears, mostly from Republicans: The expansion of social welfare programs and allowance of gay marriage.
Really? That's what they're afraid of, after these last eight years? Well, in fairness, maybe they do have a deeper fear.
What they are really afraid of is that President Obama, and America, will succeed.
Guy Reel is an associate professor of mass communication at Winthrop University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org