The 'Anxiety Election': Among the Sniper's Victims: The Public's Sense of Security. How Both Political Parties Are Running on the Fear Factor

By Fineman, Howard | Newsweek, October 21, 2002 | Go to article overview
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The 'Anxiety Election': Among the Sniper's Victims: The Public's Sense of Security. How Both Political Parties Are Running on the Fear Factor


Fineman, Howard, Newsweek


Byline: Howard Fineman

As the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who was killed by an assassin's bullet, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has always favored gun control. But, in a perhaps quixotic quest for rural votes, she had downplayed the issue in her Democratic campaign for governor of Maryland. That changed last week. With a sniper using a high-powered rifle to terrorize the Washington area, Townsend began airing a television ad attacking her Republican foe, Rep. Bob Ehrlich, for opposing a federal ban on assault weapons--though Townsend concedes the law Con-gress approved might not apply to the type of weapon the sniper was using. It's less about the specifics than Ehrlich's "attitude," she told NEWSWEEK. She was offering gun control as one answer to the voters' fears. "People in the Washington suburbs are very uneasy," she said.

The atmosphere in Washington--home of the damaged (and repaired) Pentagon, the anthrax attacks and now the sniper killer--is emblematic of the country. A theme is coalescing in these final weeks of the election season: call it the Anxiety Election. President Bush remains popular (61 percent approval in the NEWSWEEK Poll) and gets high marks for his performance as sheriff in the war on terror. The Republican and Democratic parties are at rough parity in esteem.

But beneath the placid surface of such numbers is a sea of bleak concerns, rising in public consciousness after the initial defiant optimism that followed 9-11. The litany is growing familiar. Consumer confidence is down. Since the fall of 2000, stock markets have lost $9 trillion in value. The speculative (yet comforting) $5 trillion federal surplus has disappeared. Tales of boardroom banditry fill the business pages. Al Qaeda remains a mortal threat, with assorted leaders alive and talking to Al-Jazeera. The public supports the use of American military force to disarm and remove Saddam Hussein--which is why Congress voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize the president to attack if he deems it necessary.

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