October 1, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

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. 

One epidemiologist suggests that Covid-19 should actually be called SARS-NoV-3. Biden and the Democratic Party are seeking power by seeking voters to hold Trump personally responsible for more than 200,000 Americans dying from the pandemic. In his public comments, Biden has repeatedly wildly exaggerated the death toll, publicly asserting that millions of Americans have been killed by Covid-19. It is difficult to know if Biden was intentionally misleading audiences or was momentarily clueless. 

In Tuesday’s debate, Biden looked into the camera and asked viewers: “How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of Covid?” It is most unlikely that people would have such an empty chair – unless they resided in a nursing home. The Justice Department Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating “governors of states that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit Covid-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing.” 

Biden has responded to the fears he helped fanned by proposing a national lockdown if Covid infection rates rise if he is elected president. Rather than learning from the failures of earlier lockdowns, Biden proffers a bigger Reverse Neutron Bomb – something that obliterates the remnants of the economy and schooling while purportedly preserving the lives (if not the sanity) of the people locked into their homes.

In the 2004 election, Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry, aided in part by a slew of bogus terrorist attack warnings that injected last-minute tremors into many voters. The next five weeks could bring many similar pandemic false alarms, perhaps spurred by bogus test data that is even more shameless than the FBI’s 2004 ludicrous “booby-trapped beer coolers” terrorist alert to get the redneck vote out for George W. 

Democrats have periodically portrayed themselves as the party of civil liberties but they cannot afford that pretense when playing the Pandemic Panic Card. As federal judge William Stickman IV recently ruled, “Broad population-wide lockdowns are such a dramatic inversion of the concept of liberty in a free society as to be nearly presumptively unconstitutional.” Attorney General William Barr was even more blunt, warning that imposing “a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — you know, other than slavery… this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

The 2020 election may turn on how many Americans remain utterly terrified by the political-media alarms on Covid-19. British philosopher John Stuart Mill warned in 1842: “Persons of timid character are the more predisposed to believe any statement, the more it is calculated to alarm them.” It is almost irrelevant whether 10 or 20 or 30 percent of the citizenry can see through a politician’s fearmongering.  In a democracy, as long as enough people can be frightened, all people can be subjugated. 

Biden is effectively promising to rescue people who “want to be safe.” But there is nothing in either his record or the records of federal agencies or governors to indicate that people would be better off closeted until notified it is safe to come out. In the long run, people have more to fear from politicians than from viruses.

James Bovard

James Bovard

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a frequent contributor to The Hill, and a contributing editor for American Conservative

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