Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Donít hide the Bibles

Citizens not only vote, they give money to candidates, make phone calls and knock on doors. They are especially motivated to do so by fear, especially fear that losing will mean an attack on sacred beliefs and precious possessions. Fear is a great way to run campaigns.

In the bitter election of 1800, Federalist John Adams faced Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson, his colleague from their days in the Second Continental Congress. Both men were well known from decades of public service. That hardly mattered. Adams’ supporters forecast doom if the electorate chose Jefferson and his party. The president of Yale, Pastor Timothy Dwight, harangued crowds with the dire warning that if the Jeffersonians won, “The Bible would be cast into a bonfire, our holy worship changed, our wives and daughters dishonored.” Why stop there? “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, the nation black with crimes.” Of course, it was nonsense. Jefferson was elected. Holy writ remained safe. There was no casting of Bibles into the fire.

In 2008, voters were warned that if elected, Barack Obama would confiscate guns. There was no such plan, no evidence of any intention of a plan, no steps toward initiating a plan, no subsequent confiscations, but the charge was so effective, the fear so real, that President Obama’s victory in 2008 was followed by more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers. 

Today, legislators and governors, mostly Republican, seem convinced that hordes of illegitimate operatives await an opportunity to sweep down on unsuspecting polling places and take over ballot boxes. A rolling tide of stricter, sometimes oppressive, voter identification laws has swept through the states since 2005. Since then, frauds have been uncovered in Florida and Indiana, committed in both cases by Republican election officials themselves. Hidden by the fear is the reality of little fraud and a shortage of illegal hoards. 

Fear mongering in this year’s campaigns, as in 1800 and in 2008 and in many of the elections in between, is creating scenarios that are the stuff of nightmares. Voters would do well to keep in mind the story of the little boy sitting in the street banging pans together to scare off tigers. When informed that there were no tigers within thousands of miles, he answered, “See how well it works?”

So, listen to the scary predictions, bang some pans together, but trust that, although there are real differences among candidates, none are tigers in disguise

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