Posted by: L. E. Barnes | October 27, 2010

Fear Factor

Those of you old enough to remember 1964 may remember seeing this ad:

Popularly referred to as “The Daisy Ad”, this was aired only once, on Sept. 7, 1964. The juxtaposition of the cute little girl plucking off and (mis)counting daisy petals with the nuclear detonation send a not-so-subtle message: Vote for Lyndon Johnson or we’ll be blown to smithereens. Johnson was running against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater for the presidency that year and wanted to literally scare the American people into voting for him. Hence this ad, which was meant to insuate that Goldwater could not be trusted with control of our country’s military might. And the ad produced the desired effect. After the election, a number of people admitted that they voted for Johnson not so much because they liked Johnson but because they feared Goldwater. Johnson even remarked in a telephone conversation with the governor of Texas in July of that year, “I just shudder to think what would happen if Goldwater won it. He’s a man that’s had two nervous breakdowns. He’s not a stable fellow at all.” You can read more about “The Daisy Ad” here.

What does all this tell us? All of the mudslinging that goes on during an election year is nothing new. It’s been standard practice in political campaigns, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s still going on and that it shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, there’s nothing new under the sun…

Mark Shea has written an article for Our Sunday Visitor that deals with this issue:

It’s almost that time of year again. Soon, terrifying figures will be roaming our neighborhoods from door to door and the air will be filled with the sound of voices begging that we “treat” them to a gift they badly need and warning of “tricks” that could befall us if we do not heed their pleas. 

I speak, of course, of Election Day, that national ritual in which politicians terrify us with our worst fears and tell us that if we don’t treat the Donkey (who alone can save us) to a vote, then we will die from global warming, and if we don’t treat the Elephant (who alone can save us) to a vote, then we will die from a terrorist attack. 

Petrifying pols 

Politicians love fear. It’s one of the most useful tools in their bag of tricks when they want to stampede people toward a desired goal. Hint darkly that things too terrible to describe will happen if you don’t vote for Smith and you not only get a lot of votes for Smith, but (if you play your cards right) a sort of snowball effect you can turn to again and again every election year to herd people back into the booth for Smith.  

Even if you are an incompetent or corrupt boob, you can always say, as pols have done since democracy was invented, “Look. So I’m not that hot. So I’ve kept you waiting for 30 years with promises that I will soon get around to that Issue you care so much about. But remember this: If you don’t vote for me then the horrifying Jones will take my job and all you have worked so hard for will be lost — forever lost! — just as I was about to really finally do what I’ve been promising to do for you all these decades! Be afraid! Be very afraid! For Jones will destroy all that you love most!” 

Of course, it’s not just pols who love fear. Anybody who is trying to manipulate you for any purpose likes to exploit its marvelous properties. Entertainers love it. It makes a good horror film. Incorporated into a song in small doses, it can fill an audience of needy young teens with the terror of being the first to get dumped by their significant other or the last to lose their virginity. In advertising, fear is an invaluable ingredient in countless ploys by salesmen to sell ice to Eskimos. Indeed, one of the wonders of modern marketing is that here in my native rain-soaked Washington, watered by a thousand streams of pure fresh mountain streams, somebody has talked us into the desperate need to buy bottled water to avoid all those toxins that aren’t there in our water.  

Read the full article here.

 And as did Shea, I’ll conclude with this quotation from The Screwtape Letters:

“To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too — just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. … He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth — ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other. … We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

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Responses

  1. For the first time in many years, I feel that our country is moving toward something rather than away from fear. But maybe that’s just me. “Put not your trust in princes…”

    • Barb,
      I pray that you are right!

  2. […] Fear Factor […]


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