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

Mar 16th 2023
EXTRACT: "Putin is desperate for a ceasefire, but he does not want to admit it. Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the same boat. But US President Joe Biden is unlikely to jump at this seeming opportunity to negotiate a ceasefire, because he has pledged that the US will not negotiate behind Zelensky’s back. -- The countries of the former Soviet empire, eager to assert their independence, can hardly wait for the Russian army to be crushed in Ukraine. At that point, Putin’s dream of a renewed Russian empire will disintegrate and cease to pose a threat to Europe. -- The defeat of Russian imperialism will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world. It will bring huge relief to open societies and create tremendous problems for closed ones."
Mar 15th 2023
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, a war broke out in the Middle East which resulted in a global oil embargo.... " ---- " Many historical accounts suggest the decade of global inflation and recession that characterises the 1970s stemmed from this “oil shock”. But this narrative is misleading – and half a century later, in the midst of strikingly similar global conditions, needs revisiting." ----- "In early 2023, the global financial picture feels disconcertingly similar to 50 years ago. Inflation and the cost of living have both risen steeply, and a war and related energy supply problems have been widely labelled as a key reason for this pain." ---- "In their public statements, central bank leaders have blamed this on a long (and movable) list of factors – most prominently, Vladimir Putin’s decision to send Russian troops to fight against Ukrainian armed forces. Anything, indeed, but central bank policy." ---- "Yet as Figure 1 shows, inflation had already been increasing in the US and Europe long before Putin gave the order to move his troops across the border – indeed, as far back as 2020."
Mar 7th 2023
EXTRACT: "The United States is in the midst of a book-banning frenzy. According to PEN America, 1,648 books were prohibited in public schools across the country between July 2021 and June 2022. That number is expected to increase this year as conservative politicians and organizations step up efforts to censor works dealing with sexual and racial identity."
Feb 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "As was the case before World War I, it is tempting to minimize the risk of a major conflict. After all, today’s globalized, interconnected world has too much at stake to risk a seismic unraveling. That argument is painfully familiar. It is the same one made in the early twentieth century, when the first wave of globalization was at its peak. It seemed compelling to many right up to June 28, 1914."
Feb 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "Another front has opened in the global rise of populist authoritarianism. With their efforts to weaken Israel’s independent judiciary, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his corrupt coalition of Messianic fascists and ultra-Orthodox allies are determined to translate their anti-democratic rhetoric into authoritarian policy."
Feb 17th 2023
EXTRACT: "One year on from the start of a military operation that Moscow was expected to win easily, there are increasing signs of anger, frustration and resistance from ordinary Russian soldiers. These are important reminders that these men are not mindless pawns who will do Putin’s bidding under any circumstances."
Feb 16th 2023
EXTRACT: "Over the past few days, more details have emerged about the alleged Russian plot in Moldova. Apparently, well-trained and well-equipped foreign agents were meant to infiltrate the ongoing protests, then instigate and carry out violent attacks against state institutions, take hostages and replace the current government. This may seem far-fetched, but is it? Yesterday, Moldova denied entry to Serbian soccer fans who had planned to support their team, FK Partizan Belgrade, in a Europa Conference League match against the Transnistrian side Sheriff Tiraspol. ---- " ..... there is a history of Serbian football hooligans being involved in paramilitary activities, including war crimes committed by the notorious Arkan Tigers during the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Moreover, Russia attempted to overthrow the Montenegrin government in October 2016, just ahead of the country’s Nato accession the following year, in a plot eerily prescient of what was allegedly planned recently in Moldova.
Feb 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "As the British novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote, the past is “a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Alas, this does not mean that we necessarily do things better now. But to understand that lesson, we have to follow Santayana’s advice, and study history very carefully.."
Feb 7th 2023
EXTRACT: "Others who have left Russia include tens of thousands of the country’s excellent computer scientists, whom the armament industry desperately needs. In fact, so many Russians have emigrated to neighboring countries that Armenia expects its 2022 GDP growth to come in at a whopping 13%. Unlike oil fields, this is capital that Putin cannot nationalize or seize."
Feb 6th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Under these circumstances, Ukraine’s allies are right to scale up their military assistance, including by providing battle tanks. The goal is for Ukraine to prevail against its aggressor. But we cannot wish for that end without giving Ukraine the means to achieve it. The alternative is a prolonged war of attrition, leading to more deaths in Ukraine, greater insecurity for Europe, and continued suffering around the world (owing to Russia’s weaponization of energy and food supplies)." ---- "And make no mistake: the sanctions are working. Russian oil is selling at a $40 discount to Brent, and its daily energy revenues are expected to fall from around €800 million to €500 million after our latest measures kick in this month. The war is costing the Kremlin dearly, and these costs will only rise the longer it lasts."
Feb 6th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Brezhnev, in power from 1964 to 1982, signed the 1975 Helsinki Accords, together with the United States, Canada, and most of Europe. Eager for formal recognition of its borders at the time, the USSR under Brezhnev, together with its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe, underestimated the potential impact of the Accords. That is probably why it agreed to include commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of information and movement, in the agreement’s Final Act." --- "Putin’s regime is turning its back on the legacy of Soviet dissent. Worse, it is replicating the despotic practices of Brezhnev and Soviet totalitarianism. If it continues on this path, it risks ending up in the same place."
Feb 5th 2023
EXTRACT: "....when countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and, above all, China flagrantly violate their citizens’ human rights, liberal democracies must unite to constrain their behavior. Ultimately, it is up to those of us who believe in the universality of human rights to expose crimes against humanity and to uphold liberal-democratic values in the face of authoritarian threats" --- "....liberal democracies have a shared responsibility to support the Ukrainians fighting to defend their homeland and to protect their rights to self-determination and statehood in the face of Russian aggression."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "On balance, then, the events in and around Soledar over the past week illustrate that no matter the outcome of the current fighting, this is not a turning point. It’s another strong indication that the war is likely going to be long and costly."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has long regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.” The invasion of Ukraine, now approaching its one-year anniversary, could be seen as the culmination of his years-long quest to restore the Soviet empire. ..... "With Russia’s economy straining under Western sanctions, some of the country’s leading economists and mathematicians are advocating a return to the days of five-year plans and quantitative production targets." .... "The logical endpoint of a planned economy today is the same as it was then: mass expropriation. Stalin’s collectivization of Soviet agriculture in the late 1920s and early 1930s led to millions of deaths, and the post-communist 'shock therapy' of privatization resulted in the proliferation of 'raiders' and the creation of a new class of oligarchs. Now, enthralled by imperial nostalgia, Russia may be about to embark on a new violent wave of expropriation and redistribution."
Jan 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "These developments suggest that Indian economist Amartya Sen was correct when he famously argued in 1983 that famines are caused not only by a shortage of food but also by a lack of information and political accountability. For example, the Bengal famine of 1943, India’s worst, happened under imperial British rule. After India gained independence, the country’s free press and democratic government, while flawed, prevented similar catastrophes. Sen’s thesis has since been hailed as a ringing endorsement of democracy. While some critics have noted that elected governments can also cause considerable harm, including widespread hunger, Sen points out that no famine has 'ever taken place in a functioning democracy.' --- China’s system of one-party, and increasingly one-man, rule is couched in Communist or nationalist jargon, but is rooted in fascist theory. The German jurist Carl Schmitt, who justified Adolf Hitler’s right to wield total power, coined the term “decisionism” to describe a system in which the validity of policies and laws is not determined by their content but by an omnipotent leader’s will. In other words, Hitler’s will was the law."
Dec 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "On August 1, 1991, a little more than three weeks before Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, US President George H.W. Bush arrived in Kyiv to discourage Ukrainians from doing it. In his notorious 'Chicken Kiev' speech in the Ukrainian parliament, Bush lectured the stunned MPs that independence was a recipe for 'suicidal nationalism', 'ethnic hatred', and 'Local despotism.' ----- ....the West’s reluctance to respect Ukraine’s desire for sovereignty was a bad omen, revealing a mindset among US and European leaders that paved the way to Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. ----- .... Western observers, ranging from Noam Chomsky to Henry Kissinger, blame the West for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade, or have urged Western leaders to provide Putin a diplomatic off-ramp by compelling Ukraine to give up territory. Policymakers, too, seem to view Ukraine’s self-defense as a bigger problem than Russia’s genocidal aggression. ----- ..... despite the massive material and military support the West has provided to Ukraine, the fateful logic of appeasement lingers, because many Western leaders fear the consequences of Russia’s defeat more than the prospect of a defeated Ukraine. ----- This war is about the survival of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. In the words of the Israeli leader Golda Meir, born in Kyiv, 'They say we must be dead. And we say we want to be alive. Between life and death, I don’t know of a compromise.' "
Dec 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "China’s flexible, blended, increasingly dynamic private sector could do all that and more. ----- Then came Xi Jinping. "
Dec 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For a few years in the late 2010s, it seemed to be only a matter of time before China would replace the US as the world’s largest economy and overwhelmingly dominant technological superpower. Then came the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019. " ---- "How could China’s seemingly all-powerful autocrat understand so little about the social contract on which his power rests? For all its difficulties, liberal democracy – with its transparency and self-imposed limits – has once again proved more efficient and resilient than autocracy. Accountability to the people and the rule of law is not a weakness; it is a decisive source of strength. Where Xi sees a cacophony of clashing opinions and subversive free expression, the West sees a flexible and self-correcting form of collective intelligence. The results speak for themselves."
Dec 12th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Next time you’re in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, don’t bother looking for Dostoevsky Street. It’s been renamed: it’s now Andy Warhol Street. ..... because many Ukrainians regard Andy as Ukrainian. Was he? The evidence is mixed." ---- "Warhol remained a committed Greek Catholic all his life. He regularly prayed, both at home and in church, and frequently attended Sunday Mass. His bedside table contained a crucifix, a Christ statuette, and a prayer book. After he died on February 22, 1987, he was buried in St. John the Divine Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, some twenty miles south of Pittsburgh, in a simple grave next to his parents." ---- "When it comes to objective cultural affiliation or subjective ethnic identification, the United States—with its diverse Slavic heritages—has the greatest claim on Warhol and his art."
Dec 12th 2022
EXTRACT: "Cellular agriculture provides an alternative, and could be one of this century’s most promising technological advancements. Sometimes called “lab-grown food”, the process involves growing animal products from real animal cells, rather than growing actual animals. If growing meat or milk from animal cells sounds strange or icky to you, let’s put this into perspective. Imagine a brewery or cheese factory: a sterile facility filled with metal vats, producing large volumes of beer or cheese, and using a variety of technologies to mix, ferment, clean and monitor the process. Swap the barley or milk for animal cells and this same facility becomes a sustainable and efficient producer of dairy or meat products."