Whatever fears Americans have at the moment — and with oil heading into the once unimaginable $100-a-barrel range and the housing market in freefall, fears are not unreasonable — they do not add up to Fear with a capital “F,” as in the days and weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001. They do not add up to the kind of abject fear that proved so useful to the Bush administration as it prepared to launch its Global War on Terror and future invasion of Iraq by scaring Americans into passivity.
As Mark Danner wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times, war is a godsend for politicians, “for glowing at its heart is that most lucrative of political emotions: fear. War produces fear. But so too does the rhetoric of war.” Right now, that rhetoric — specifically the fear of terrorism — is not much at the forefront of American minds. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a modest 17% of Republicans and a vanishingly small 3% of Democrats put “terrorism” among their top two concerns. This may be one reason why the leading Republican candidates, with little to offer and saddled with seven years of George Bush, are so over the top on potentially fear-inducing subjects like war with Iran.
Of course, this is the present situation — but it should never be forgotten just how close to the surface, how easily flushed from cover such Fear can be, given the right circumstances, which could easily enough arrive in 2008 on the wings of terror, via American planes heading Iran-wards, or in ways as yet unimaginable. No one has offered as stunning a vision of how this all worked after 9/11 as Susan Faludi in her remarkable new book, The Terror Dream, Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. No one has offered anything like the stunning description and analysis of just what dreams and terrors the deadly duo of al-Qaeda and the Bush administration conjured up from the deepest reaches of American consciousness.
When al-Qaeda played the terror card and the Bush administration cunningly responded with the “rescue” card, it took Americans deep into their cultural past, right back to the earliest seventeenth-century bestsellers (captivity narratives of young women taken by Indian raiders on the “frontier” of New England) as well as into a more recent past of cowboy rescuers, the sort who saved helpless young women in the darkened movie theaters of George’s and my own childhoods. Playing that rescue card was, as Todd Gitlin wrote recently at Truthdig.org, the “second hijacking” of 9/11. It took Americans from a confrontation with real enemies into a fantasy world that called up the most stereotypical roles in our gender dictionary. (“Welcome to war against an Axis of Injuns to protect the honor of the wimmenfolk.”) It is an amazing, if thoroughly chilling, tale that we are not yet done w! ith. The book is simply riveting, a must-read. The fantasies conjured up are still wildly, unpredictably at play including in the present, strange presidential campaign that Susan Faludi anatomizes below. Tom
They Always Play the Gender Card
But Hillary Shuffles the Deck
By Susan Faludi
No sooner had Hillary Clinton proceeded from the Democratic presidential debate to a speech at Wellesley College last week than the wailing began. Barack Obama hit the “Today” show accusing her of playing the “don’t pick on me” woman and a chorus line of media pundits denounced her for having hurt the cause of feminism by acting like the injured girl and dealing the “gender card.”
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd contended that Clinton was trying to show “she can break, just like a little girl…. If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now.” FOX News’ Mort Kondracke preached: “I think it is very unattractive for a general election candidate, who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the free world, to be saying ‘They’re ganging up on me!’ I mean, this is the NFL. This is not Wellesley versus Smith in field hockey.”