Fear Mongering Works... On Cowards

Folks concerned with the tenor of the political debate at the tail end of this election, as things get particularly desperate and ugly, should check out Wallis' post today, "Be Not Afraid". Good stuff.

Now, I have a question about the chiding I got for my tone: I think we can all agree it's right to warn people not to be afraid, or making judgments out of fear when it comes to electoral politics. That's scriptural (for folks concerned with that), it doesn't attack anyone, and it also seems very... safe.

But what's the difference between saying X or Y group is trying to motivate people through fear, and saying X and Y group depends on cowardice in order to succeed? And if we see fear mongering, and watch it succeed, then are we wrong or hurtful to say the group that used such a strategy is composed of cynical leaders and cowardly followers?

You see where I'm going with this. To say, "Don't be manipulated by X group, which is trying to scare you." Okay. Kosher. Socially acceptable.

But "X group is composed of cynical, manipulative leaders and cowardly followers."? Bad. Impolite. Uncivilized. Disrespectful.

I'm no fan of the term "Tough Love". I think it's become a euphemism for everything from child abuse to overly harsh punishments for criminals. But what about tougher rhetoric? Protecting the feelings of cowards and dishonest, cynical politicians doesn't really do anyone any favors. We shouldn't shut down debate with shouting or reckless name calling, but speaking truth to power is a good thing. As we watch our economy go into a tailspin, we're going to hear a lot about shared responsibility between Wall Street and Main Street. Doesn't the same go for our politics? In a democracy, the people have power. If leaders resort to fear mongering, the accountability also belongs to the fearful who allowed themselves to be manipulated.

I understand politicians can't call voters cowards, just as they can't call everyone with too much credit card debt irresponsible borrowers. But those of us who live with the consequences of cowardly voting might not be running for office, so we can, and should, call out our neighbors for being spineless.