It was less than a month ago that the election campaign was still on. John McCain - remember? - spent a good part of the time warning of serious threats to the United States. For his trouble he was accused of practicing "the politics of fear."
Then came Mumbai.
Suddenly, the politics of fear looks like the politics of wisdom, prescience, and common sense. But it's too late for Senator McCain. The man ridiculed as being so 20th century turned out to be 21st-century cutting edge, but he'll get no honors from the electoral college. They give a ribbon only for first place.
Other practitioners generally receive the same treatment by the not-so-intelligentsia. Claudia Rosett, writing on her own blog in the midst of the Mumbai crisis said, "All you have to connect are two dots to see that today’s terrorist carnage in Bombay is yet another wakeup call about the 100,000-fold danger of letting Iran get the nuclear bomb — let alone start turning out nuclear weapons on an industrial scale."
Stop this woman. Stop her immediately! She's practicing the politics of you know what.
Well, it's time to pay proper tribute to those who practice the politics of fear, for they are the adults, the caretakers of the nation. They have warned and warned that we are starting to settle back into a "September 10th" mentality - the mindset that prevailed before the 9-11 attacks - and, like John McCain, they have been ridiculed. The ridicule usually begins by some sterling individual quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural, delivered in 1933, in which he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." No politics of fear for FDR, even in the midst of the Great Depression.
Conveniently, the quoting crusaders ignore what followed. For, a few lines later Mr. Roosevelt said:
"Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce, the savings of many years in thousand of families are gone.
"More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment."
The fact is, FDR could out-fear the best of them. He understood that when the nation is in crisis, the politics of fear must be employed if the American people are to understand exactly what they are facing. Of course, he would have never called it the politics of fear. He would have called it telling the truth.
The attack in Mumbai claimed fewer than ten percent of the lives we lost on 9-11. Yet, it was the most covered terrorist assault since America's dark day. That is because it was ongoing. It continued for three days, and we were riveted. Americans were home for the holiday. They had time to watch, and they saw sheer cruelty committed before their eyes. Because of the holiday, our political classes were busy eating, rather than talking, so the news coverage had an uncluttered quality. Even the usual "experts" on television generally behaved themselves. There was remarkably little marketing of ideologies or grinding of old axes. The commentators seemed to understand that they did not have enough information for wide-ranging analyses. There were exceptions, but the pundits practiced a high, and rare level of discipline.
But now we are faced with questions: Who will remember Mumbai? How will it be remembered? Will we draw the right conclusions, as Claudia Rosett has, or will we go back again to September 10th? It is now seven years since 9-11. In terms of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, this is 1948. By that time we had won World War II and gone on to building the postwar world. The lessons of Pearl Harbor were forgotten until the shock of the Soviet-sponsored invasion of South Korea by North Korea in 1950.
Memory is not automatic. We remember what we're told to remember, and the quality of the memory is shaped by the press and our universities. If that doesn't concern you, you haven't been around the last five or ten years. When even the ombudsman of The Washington Post and Mark Halperin of TIME concede that the press did not play it straight during the election campaign, and was biased toward Obama, we have a right to ask where else that leftist bias might show up. When history, political science and Middle East studies departments in our universities lurch as far left as they have, we have a right to ask what our young people are being taught about the true nature of terrorism.
So let's hear it for the politics of fear, and, where merited, let's practice it. Most terror
experts are warning that this country remains strikingly vulnerable, and that there is increased likelihood of an attack on our soil during the transition to the Obama administration. We should be talking about this every day. Our press should be active on it every day. We
should examine every aspect of our preparedness. And we have a right to have some fear. It's a healthy emotion under the right circumstances, and these are the right circumstances.
Senator McCain, we await your next warning. Now, after Mumbai, maybe the nation will listen.