Sep 9th 2009

The Fear Factor

by Bill Schneider

Bill Schneider, a leading U.S. political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Resident Scholar at Third Way and the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor Public Policy at George Mason University in Washington, D.C. He has been CNN's senior political analyst since 1990. He is also a contributing editor to National Journal and The Atlantic Monthly. Schneider has been labeled ``the Aristotle of American politics'' by The Boston Globe. Campaigns and Elections Magazine called him "the most consistently intelligent analyst on television.'' He is a member of the CNN political team that was awarded an Emmy for its 2006 election coverage and a Peabody for its 2008 coverage.

In The Prince, published in 1532, Nicolo Machiavelli asked whether it was better for a prince to be loved or feared. His answer: "One should wish to be both, but because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is safer to be feared than loved.'' That is true for presidents as well as princes.

President Obama is loved by many. He is also respected and admired for one quality above all others -- his cool. Again and again during last year's campaign, candidate Obama displayed coolness under pressure. Like on Super Tuesday, after he lost primaries in New York, New Jersey, California and Massachusetts to Hillary Clinton. Obama stirred his dispirited supporters, declaring, "What began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus, that cannot be ignored, that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest. Yes, we can!''

Or when he faced criticism over his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama responded by delivering an eloquent speech about race relations. Or when he found himself under attack for his remarks about economically hard-pressed small-town voters who "get bitter'' and "cling to guns or religion.'' Obama acknowledged, "I didn't say it as well as I should have.''

Obama's coolness under pressure provided a sharp contrast with John McCain. McCain got rattled by the financial crisis, suspended his campaign and rushed back to Washington where he tried, unsuccessfully, to urge Republicans in Congress to support a Wall Street bailout.

Obama's coolness is reassuring to Americans during times of uncertainty and anxiety. People need to believe the president is in control of the situation. But coolness is not enough. To get what he wants from Congress, a president also needs toughness. The sort of toughness that Harry Truman displayed when he fired General Douglas Macarthur. That John F. Kennedy displayed in the Cuban missile crisis. That Lyndon Johnson displayed when he wrestled Congress into submission on Medicare and civil rights. That Ronald Reagan displayed when he faced down a strike by air traffic controllers. Members of Congress must understand that they cannot defy the president with impunity. They must fear him.

It did candidate Reagan no end of good when he refused to allow his microphone to be cut off in a New Hampshire primary debate, angrily protesting, "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.'' The line was actually borrowed from an old Spencer Tracy movie, but never mind. It worked.

As Congress reconvenes, President Obama is facing opposition on two fronts. The right is ready to do battle over health care reform. A demoralized Republican Party has suddenly found its resolve strengthened. Because of a rediscovered commitment to principle? No. Because conservative activists laid out a path of defiance. They angrily disrupted town hall meetings across the country, showing no fear of standing up to the vaunted strength of the Obama movement. They got in President Obama's face -- in some cases, monstrously distorting his face to make him look like Hitler.

A lot of people expected those outrageous tactics to alienate the American public. But opposition to the president's ideas for health care reform increased over the summer. Especially among seniors, 60 percent of whom now say they oppose the president's plans for health care reform, according to a CNN poll taken at the end of August (60 percent of Americans under 35 support the president on this issue).

President Obama also faces a revolt on the left over the war in Afghanistan. If the president endorses the military's request for a substantial troop increase, liberals appear ready to resist. And the country may follow. In the CNN poll, public opposition to the war in Afghanistan has increased steadily with as U.S. casualties have grown, from 46 percent opposed in April to 57 percent in August. Among Democrats, opposition has grown even more rapidly, from 55 percent in April to 73 percent now.

The antiwar movement is planning to challenge President Obama on Afghanistan this fall. The leader of U.S. Labor Against the War warned in an interview with the New York Times, "President Obama risks his entire domestic agenda, just as Johnson did in Vietnam, in pursuing this course of action in Afghanistan.'' Who is with President Obama on Afghanistan? At this point, mostly Republicans.

Congressional Democrats are getting worried about preserving their majorities next year. A new Pew poll shows favorable opinion of Congress at its lowest point since at least 1985. Lower than in 1994, when voters overthrew the Democratic majority. Democrats may abandon the president if they don't believe he can offer them political cover. That starts to happen when the President's job approval rating dips below 50 percent. Right now, the Pew poll shows him at 52, the CNN poll at 53.

The president seemed to buckle under political pressure on the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility. Israel is resisting U.S. pressure to freeze settlements on the West Bank. Somewhere, sometime, the president must demonstrate that there is a price to be paid for defying him. Mr. Obama has proved that he can be inspiring. But at this point, what he needs to inspire most of all is fear.

Published with kind permission of Third Way. The views expressed above are however solely those of the author, they do not represent the views of Third Way.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Oct 17th 2021
EXTRACTS: "But property-sector woes are not the only economic danger China faces in 2021-22. The Chinese government’s mounting crackdown on the country’s burgeoning tech sector may pose an even greater threat." ---- "According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the share of Chinese urban employment supported by private enterprises more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2018, from just 18% to 87%. The share of exports generated by the private sector more than doubled over the same period, from 34% to 88%. And private-sector fixed-asset investment jumped from 42% to 65% of the total. The message in the data is clear: clamping down on the private sector and threatening innovators is not the way to ensure sustained rapid growth. Chinese entrepreneurs can read the writing on the wall. They understand that their political and regulatory room to maneuver is shrinking, and that the balance has shifted in favor of state-owned firms and public officials. And they understand that this uneasy atmosphere is likely to persist."
Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."