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The Real State of the Union: Fear.

January 26th, 2010 - 8:18 pm

Yes, I’m starting with Massachusetts.  I’m entitled.  My mother, of blessed memory, was born and raised in Pittsfield, Mass, one of six remarkable sisters, the daughter of a kosher meat wholesaler.  I lived in Pittsfield for a few years, attended Redfield School, and I was there when Dewey lost to Truman, one of my earliest political memories. We also lived for a couple of years in Springfield, where my father, of blessed memory, ran Indian Motorcycle Company towards the end of its storied history.

The Ledeens were of course Dems, and later on, in New Jersey, became liberal Republicans of the Clifford Case variety, but in Massachusetts I only remember Dems. And so it was with considerable surprise that I found that Pittsfield had gone for Brown.  Indeed, 69% of Pittsfield voters chose him.

I don’t think a vote of such magnitude was based merely on anger, a word invariably trotted out to explain Democratic defeats (remember the “angry white man” a few years back?).  I do believe that passion played a big role, but a somewhat different one:  not anger, but fear.  They’re afraid of Obama.  Afraid of what he’s doing to them, and therefore prepared to change sides.

This fear is extremely broad-based.  It is not limited to social class nor to domestic or foreign policies.  Banks are not lending, companies are not hiring, because they are afraid of what Obama will do next.  Both are afraid of onerous taxes, including new health care burdens, and the banks fear new regulations and the consequences of the recently declared war on evil bankers by the president.  Seniors are afraid they will be deprived of medical treatment.  Juniors are afraid they are going to be forced to buy health insurance they don’t think they need.  Across the board, Americans are afraid they’re not going to find work, and won’t be able to afford a house.  And, as the Massachusetts vote showed, Americans are worried about threats from abroad, worried about Iran, afraid of terrorist attacks, and afraid the Obama Administration doesn’t take all this seriously enough.  As Scott Brown put it, most Americans think our tax dollars should go to fighting terrorists, not to pay lawyers to defend terrorists.

Machiavelli once asked whether it was better for a ruler to be loved or feared. He said that it would be best to be both, and that either one could work all by itself.  But if you must choose, he said, fear is better, since love is fragile, while “fear of punishment works every time.”

Which is true enough. But notice that the “fear” Machiavelli is talking about is very different from the fear Obama is generating.  Machiavelli is saying that a ruler must be strong enough to convince potential enemies that they will have to pay a very high price for challenging him. Obama isn’t acting like a strong leader, either here or abroad. In the past few days he’s been rudely insulted by the Iranians and the Russians (who compared him to Ahmadinejad), and he’s become an object of ridicule for previously friendly tv stars like Jon Stewart.

He doesn’t instill fear of punishment. It’s his policies and his weakness that frighten us. The man himself risks inspiring contempt.  Which, as Machiavelli says, is the most dangerous thing that can befall any leader.

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