WATCHING THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES chase one another back and forth across the country on the longest and most confusing campaign trail in modern history reminds me of The Wizard of Oz. Candidates are trying to find enough yellow bricks to keep their campaign coffers full, and those trying to follow the race feel as lost and confused as Dorothy and Toto. We know we're not in Kansas, but we're not sure where we are.
Unlike Dorothy, however, our presidential campaigns are usually missing a Scarecrow and Tin Man, since few American pundits or voters seem to be in search of a candidate with a heart or a brain. Every four years the American press and public hits the campaign trail like a pride of Cowardly Lions, hoping we'll find a leader who has "courage."
And every election cycle we turn and run from any candidate accused of being "soft" (or chicken) on drugs, crime, defense, or terror. Sure, he or she may be really smart and accomplished, have a great record, be full of compassion, and might make a great president--"If they only had the 'noive.'" But somebody called them a scaredy-cat, and voters scattered like jackals.
Why, much more than brains or heart, do we want our leaders to have "guts"--to be tough? Why does American politics so often feel like a high school popularity contest? We can't elect the smart candidate--she's a geek. We can't vote for the compassionate candidate--he's a sissy. So we start lionizing the bully--he's so tough.
MAYBE WE CHASE AFTER CANDIDATES PROMISING to be tough on everything because we live in a society where we are always being told how dangerous our neighborhood and world are. In Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Brazos, 2007), Scott Bader-Saye reports that our marketers, leaders, and media use fear all the time to scare us into buying their products, policies, and point of view.
In America the media and Madison Avenue regularly exaggerate the proximity and size of threats to our health, safety, and security to generate more customers and larger audiences. Politicians of both parties fuel our fears of crime, drugs, and terrorism to gain votes. Keeping customers and citizens scared is good for business and politics.
Fear-mongering reached a fever pitch in the wake of 9/11. The White House claimed a mad man in league with the terrorists who flew into the World Trade Center had amassed weapons of mass destruction, then terrified us with images of a mushroom cloud over a U.S. city. How could we not launch a war against such a villain?
The FBI reported that thousands of terrorist cells were hidden in our towns and neighborhoods. What use were our civil liberties and constitutional rights when facing such a threat? And Homeland Security permanently set the warning level at orange, even years after the last attack and in places no self-respecting terrorist would go. How could we ever feel safe again?
BUT CRYING WOLF WAS A POPULAR AMERICAN sport long before 9/11, and politicians and pundits scaring citizens into rash campaigns and wars is nothing new. …