“People want to be safe,” Joe Biden repeatedly declared in Tuesday night’s debate. The 2020 presidential race could turn into a referendum on whether vastly increasing government power can provide “freedom from fear.” This has been a recurring theme in recent American history that consistently brings out the worst in both politicians and voters.
The 2020 presidential campaign thus far has plenty of unpleasant parallels to 9/11 and the 2004 election. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were the biggest intelligence failure by U.S. government agencies since Pearl Harbor. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation ignored bushels of evidence of an international conspiracy and a bucket of warnings that Arabs with terrorist connections were receiving pilot training inside the U.S. Yet, after the attacks terrified the nation, polls speedily showed a doubling in the percentage of Americans who trusted government to “do the right thing.” The media fanned this blind faith as if it was the high road to public safety. President George W. Bush exploited that credulity to seize far more power and to deceive the nation into war against Iraq.
While Bush is now being lionized by the establishment media (thanks to his criticisms of Trump), few people recall that he ran the most fear-mongering presidential reelection campaign in modern American history. Bush 2004 campaign ads showed firemen carrying a flag-draped corpse from the rubble at Ground Zero in New York and a pack of wolves coming to attack home viewers as an announcer warned that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.” One commentator suggested that the ad hinted that voters would be eaten by wolves if John Kerry won.
Just before 2004 Election Day a senior GOP strategist told the New York Daily News that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.” People who saw terrorism as the biggest issue in the 2004 election voted for Bush by a 6 to 1 margin. Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, observed that the Bush campaign was “using the fear factor almost exclusively. This is a highly researched decision with all the tools of public opinion management. It’s nothing but a reflection that it works.”
Like the federal failures preceding the 9/11 attacks, the Covid pandemic was far more damaging because of testing and other blunders by the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration. The World Health Organization spurred disastrous policies by forecasting a mortality that was 50 times higher than the rate the U.S. experienced. The pointless, punitive lockdowns imposed by governors and mayors disrupted hundreds of millions of American lives while doing little or nothing to curb the spread of the virus to seven million Americans. In the same way that Bush lionized federal agencies after 9/11 despite their failures to prevent the attacks, Biden and his media allies are pushing for blind faith in “data and science” – regardless of the debacles we have seen this year.