FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: FACELIFT FOR THE FEAR FRAME

Now that trashing Bush on TV is de rigueur for GOP presidential wannabes, one might think that the right-wing rhetoric of fear and violence might fall by the wayside, too. Guess again. Rather than dump that old Bush-Cheney bunk about...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 06/07/2007

Now that trashing Bush on TV is de rigueur for GOP presidential wannabes, one might think that the right-wing rhetoric of fear and violence might fall  by the wayside,  too.  Guess again.

Rather than dump that old Bush-Cheney bunk about a vote for the Democrats being a vote for nuclear annihilation by "terrorists," many Republicans are framing the debate with a new word: "Jihadism."

Tuesday night's Republican "debate" on CNN was chock full of attempts by the candidates to say "Jihadism" and "Jihadist" as much as posible, often coupled with direct jabs at the competence of the Bush administration and--no big shocker,here--at the credibility of the Democrats. 

And  here we see the crux of the matter on this word shift: Republicans are  still working with campaign consultants pushing the fear frame as best path to the victory in 2008, but they are increasingly aware that looking and sounding like George W. Bush is a one-way ticket to wikipedia obscurity, not the White House.

Given this dilemma,  whatever is today's Machiavellian authoritarian with presidential ambitions to do?

Why...switch the debate on Iraq from a "war on" an evil tactic ( e.g., terrorism) to a "war on" an evil culture (e.g. Jihadism), of course!

Criticizing Bush Means "Weak" and "Treasonous"
How to run a campaign that uses the same fear frame and also lashes out at George W. Bush for being an idiot is the challenge for the Republican presidential candidate--and not an enviable one.

The difficulty lies in how the Republicans over the past 7 years have framed any criticism of Bush's policies as a sign of "weakness" or "treason." 

But with polling that shows Bush will soon be less popular lung cancer, any Republican who does not step up and speak out against Bush will go down with the ship.

That is easy enough of a challenge for single-issue snowball's-chance-in-Hell candidates like Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, and Jim Gilmore.   All they have to do is voice their contempt for Bush as happened on Tuesday.

But for the candidates polling in the top or even in the middle of the pack, the challenge is not just to say why Bush is such a flop, but say it in a way that brings on board the whole authoritarian pack that might otherwise go into shock at the mere suggestion that Bush did something wrong.

Bringing on the word "Jihad" allows for just that kind of finesse because it picks up a widely accepted critique of Bush, while at the same time pushing the debate into an entirely new logic.  "We're still at war," it says, "But now we know it's a war against ideology and culture--a clash of civilizations--not just a war against a deadly tactic."

And this kind of turn to clash of civilizations actually does more than solve the problem of pushing fear and dissing Bush.  It forges a strong tie between the top-tier Republican candidates and the authoritarian intellectuals that make up the pundit class of the Republican party.

This is because right-wing thinkers like Dinesh D'Souzah have been arguing for some time now that the attacks on 9/11 were not in fact part of a the "global war on terror," as Bush has been saying, but part of the global culture war that the right fought so effectively against Liberals since the 1980s.

Talking about "Jihadism" as the threat we face,  opens the flood gates for every Republican to say that "liberals and terrorists" hate American culture and, subsequently, to claim as D'Souzah has that Democrats should not be elected because they are more concerned about the danger of the Republican party than the danger of Al Qaeda.

Shining a Light on the Tactic: Moving Beyond "Violence" In Public Debate
The challenge, then, for Democrats is not to get snookered by all the rapid talk about "Jihadism," but to think big and keep framing the debate in terms of "all-over-the-board" and "smart" foreign policy.

But beyond that technical aspect of the discussion--the aspect that answers the question, "How will we craft and run our policies?"--Democrats need to find a way to push the discussion to a level that includes the broad idea of protecting the American "way of life."

What Democrats hold is a vision of America where the public square is not dominated by talk of violence.  As it stands,the Republican election campaign tactics over the past 7 years have injected so much talk of terrorism, Jihadism and nuclear destruction into the public square that--with each passing day--our public debate becomes more and more saturated with violence.

The grim irony of the past 7 years is that the worst actual violence in decades happened on American soil on September 11, 2001, but our public debate is far more dominated by talk and fear of violence today that it has ever been.

By doing so, the Republicans have failed on a very fundamental level. By choosing to use fear as a tool  for winning elections, the Republicans have poisoned public debate and brought on increasingly widespread cynicism.

Getting rid of corruption and incompetence when George W. Bush leaves office will allow us as a nation to return to a smart foreign policy, but unless we are willing to move past violent and fear-laced rhetoric in our public debate, we face a rising tide of cynicism that could rip this nation in two.

That is the bigger challenge that we all face--not only here in contemporary America, but also in Iraqi and in future generations as well.

And so Democrats, if they want to gain and keep control of the debate on national security in this election, must be willing to frame their vision for a good foreign policy in terms of the much broader logic of restoring public discourse in America--of turning back the rhetoric of violence unleashed in wave after wave, every time a Republican runs for office in a post-9/11 campaign.

What To Expect In Response
Response to this new attempt by Democrats to talk about eliminating violence from public debate, will likely be met by Republican efforts to say that liberals worry more about Republicans than they do about "Jihadists." 

To that, the response should be to finish the thought for them (my suggestion, here): 

"And again, here we see the Republican doing whatever they can to push violent rhetoric to  win votes by making us fearful.  America is tired of this. We talk more about violence 7 years after the country was attacked than we did on September 12.  The Republicans simply refuse to stop injecting violence and fear into public debate.  The American people are tired of it.  We want a foreign policy that's smart and that works so that we don't have to spend all our time talking about violence, not--as the Republicans believe--so that we can spend all our time tangled up in violent talk."

That, of course, is just one way to phrase the idea, but the larger point is there.  As Republican candidates try to switch the debate from the "war on terror" to the "war on Jihadism," Democrats need to step up and frame the discussion in terms of smart policy and a vision of public debate made free again from constant talk of violence.


© 2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop
© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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