Politics & Media
Aug 01, 2008, 05:43AM

Curiosity Kills Me

The fears that enabled the war on terror have given way to much more tangible domestic woes, and many people are more scared of a gas station than the possibility of a terrorist attack.

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Photo by "G" jewels g is for grandma

I think we’re finally winning the War on Terror. If you want to dissect what the words “War on Terror” mean in their basest form, they translate into an effort against fear. Terror and fear mean the same thing, last I checked. And you know what? We’re not afraid anymore.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Over 75 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was fighting the War on Terror before fighting a war against terror was cool. Terror begets fear. Fear begets fear. If terror is the root of all fear and we have no fear, then there must be no terror.

From 2001 to about 2006, words such as Sept. 11, bin Laden, World Trade Center, al-Qaeda and attacks made up the lexicon of the ruling Republican Party. They were the party of strength, security, and —inversely—fear. Every passing second was another moment to remind the American people what terrifying fate awaited them. Terrorist attacks were not a matter of if but when. Terror begot fear begot the 2004 national elections. Fear was not alone—it never is—in deciding the outcome, but its presence was undeniable.

Missing above are a couple phrases that also mark the last seven years against terror. The London Underground. Madrid. It’s no surprise, of course, that these are absent. Every word up there serves as a reminder of the threat against Americans in America. There is no fear in an attack on a foreign capital. I mean, we’re under attack—Americans are under attack—in two foreign capitals as we speak. But, honestly, are you afraid of being attacked?

The Iraq war lost its luster once we found out those WMDs weren’t really there. If there was no threat against American soil, there was no source of terror, no source of fear, and no need to be there. Now, we have a majority of the population that has more or less changed its mind. “Get the hell out, please,” this majority is asking our politicians.

“Move them to Afghanistan, please,” say the new and improved politicians. Stronger, faster, smarter, the new majority, the New Democrats, have made Afghanistan the rallying cry. Thomas L. Friedman is right: the New Democrats have simply picked a favorite front for the War on Terror. But these New Democrats are smarter than they look. Iraq is an irrelevant quagmire. Afghanistan brims with hope. One of my best friends got back from Afghanistan a few months ago, and had this to say: “I really believe we’re doing good things there. They’re slowly buying in to our way of life.” My friend is smart, aware, and well-informed. He is not generally an Army mouthpiece and does not have positive things to say about Iraq. I believe him. Apparently, so do most Americans, as the nation’s majority opinion clamors for troop movement to Afghanistan.

But, Afghanistan brings something else to the table. More than hope—which fades quickly in endless wars—Afghanistan evokes the visceral memory of 9/11 without ever having to say “9/11.” Osama is there. The Taliban is there. Even al-Qaeda is there. Afghanistan is the associated with the root of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It is the root of our fear. The New Democrats cannot say things like “9/11” because the Old Democrats, the John Kerrys of the world, staked their reputation on calling out the Republicans for doing just that. If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw out even a single irrelevant “9/11” on C-SPAN, the whole New Democrat house of cards would come tumbling down.

These New Democrats, born from the mild winter of 2006, are winners. They are tough on terror, and tough against Iraq. They don’t cut and run, they just want to move our ass-kicking operation to a different country and kick some ass there. They are ahead of the curve—also a bit lucky—and have been calling for a tactical switch months before Afghanistan’s body count started sneaking past Iraq’s.

For years, the Democrats were bumbling, soft, waffling elitists. They preached to the nation, saying they knew what the people needed, that the people themselves had no clue. Behind closed doors, the elite base of the Democrats, holed up in places like New York, San Francisco, and Boston, wondered what the hell was going on in the middle and south of this country.

The thing is, though, if George W. Bush weren’t so conservative and polarizing, these same people would have been secretly voting for him. Arrogance from the other party is always nerve-wracking, especially when the other party keeps winning. The Republican mandate of fear, legitimately popular, was taken to mean that the conservatives had an extreme mandate for every aspect of politics. Bush’s sharp partisanship alienated half of the country, but, honestly, if he had been a little more bipartisan in non-terror policies, he probably would have won 80 percent of the vote.

We all felt the fear after 9/11. We had just three years to get over that monumental shock before the next election. We had to respond, we had to stay strong, and, most of all, we had the right to be a little scared.

But eventually, fear drips into the back of your mind. Every time I fill up my Ford Explorer, I am reminded how high gas prices are. Every time I fill up my Ford Explorer, I am not, however, afraid of a terrorist attack. No, my concerns are much more tangible: my trip to Europe was much more expensive than it would have been five years ago, it’s really hard to find a job, my health insurance runs out in six months, and filling up the gas tank costs as much per month as the rent does.

The New Democrats focus on solutions to all those problems rather than dredging up some old fears I don’t want to think about. Meanwhile, they deftly play my subconscious fears, while John McCain’s fears seem increasingly irrelevant. McCain harps on Iraq and proposes half-baked, outdated answers to my questions, like offshore drilling in America. I’m done being scared about terror when right now I have some real shit to worry about, and most Americans agree. We’re not even talking about attacks anymore; only some far-off wars. The fear is dead. The War on Terror is over. Mission accomplished.

  • Here's one way to make the gas station a little less intimidating: stop driving a Ford Explorer. It's 2008.

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  • How kind of this writer to give a reminder that it was FDR who said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I would've forgotten otherwise. I'm for Obama, but I think it's kind of insulting to call him a "new" Democrat. He's not a "new" Democrat, just a smarter one, and his fellow party members are damned lucky that he's heading up the ticket.

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  • Two points: if the writer was so concerned about finding a job, paying his rent, etc., why did he go on a European trip. Also, the problem with Bush, for much of his base, was that he wasn't conservative enough, condoning profligate Congressional spending, backing down on Social Security reform, and making really dumb choices for his cabinet and the judiciary. Harriet Miers? Along with his inexcusable bumbling of Katrina, he lost conservatives with Miers.

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