Election day signs says "VOTE! Defend Democracy on Nov. 8th"

A placard that states "VOTE DEFEND DEMOCRACY on NOV. 8th" affixes to street pole the day before the midterm general election on November 7, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

On Election Day, the Sum of All Fears

Vote as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

Vote! For a day or two, forget all things large and small that you as a progressive may dislike about the Democratic Party, Congress, and the Biden administration. You can pick up where you left off later in the week. Right now, there's too much at stake to not make yourself heard.

If you've already cast your ballot, great. If not, get yourself to the polls on Tuesday, Election Day. It's crucial.

Now then...

In 1933, delivering his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declared to a country crippled by the Great Depression's hunger, unemployment, and poverty, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Shorten that just a bit and you have the entire Republican platform in seven words: "The only thing we have... is fear."

Because indeed, that's all they've got. There are no real programs, no new ideas on their part, no agenda but fear. Fear so they can bully and provoke voters in order to hold onto the power they believe is rightfully theirs, flying in the face of public opinion and legitimate election results.

Be afraid that without enough turnout on our side, the clowns of the right will run the circus; that our representative democracy, the freedom of expression, the right to healthcare, a good education, and a decent wage will vanish down George Orwell's memory hole.

They talk about the need to restrict immigration, fight crime, censor the teaching of history in our schools, deny climate change, force women to have babies but have no solutions other than restricting the rights of others while simultaneously making sure anyone can buy a gun. They want to slash or eliminate programs like Medicare and Social Security, and will destroy the environment with fossil fuels, while lining their own and their wealthy friends' pockets with lush contracts and tax cuts to the rich.

What solutions do they offer? None. With virtually no exceptions, all they're dedicated to is the ends justifying the means, the provocation of resentment and anger with lies and buzzwords - socialism, communism, liberal, radicals! All intended to keep the voting populace fearful. And all the time undermining this experiment in democracy, just to restore the buffoon who leads them to power.

Of course, this is not the first time the Republicans have used this tactic to their advantage. Yet never before have the attacks seemed so constant, amplified by social media and the airtime and ad space that dark money buys. A visit to Syracuse last weekend was to be exposed to local TV filled with a torrent of spittle-flecked attack ads. And in just the last few days here in New York City, they've heavily amped up the nasty as the election approaches.

In 1968, Nixon used similar tactics as he successfully ran for the presidency in a year of civil unrest, urban uprisings, and political assassination. As Lawrence O'Donnell writes in "Playing with Fire," his excellent account of the '68 presidential campaign, "If things continued at the present rate, Nixon predicted rape, robbery, assault, and theft would double in four years. 'The city jungle will cease to be a metaphor,' he said. 'It will become a barbaric reality.'"

One of his TV slogans was "This time, vote like your life depended on it." The implication: if you vote for the Democrats, prepare for even more crime, worse destruction, and doom, all doubtless brought about by, you know, "others."

Similarly, twenty years later, in 1988, under the spell of Southern strategist and George HW Bush presidential campaign manager Lee Atwater, supporters of the Bush candidacy successfully played the fear and race card, smearing the opposition with the notorious Willie Horton ad.

While governor of Massachusetts, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis had vetoed a bill that would have banned convicted murders from a weekend furlough program. One such prisoner, Horton, a black man out on just such a furlough, kidnapped a couple, raped the woman, and tortured her companion. Urged on by Atwater, Bush ads telling the story scared a large segment of voters. Dukakis went from a 17-point lead in early polls to defeat in the general election.

This year, more of the same, but turned up to eleven and beyond when it comes to screaming, hysterical prejudice. Scratch just a bit and you know what the real GOP fear is: white power increasingly diminished by people of color who hold a larger and larger place in the population. So the time to consolidate power and hold a BIPOC population at bay is now, no matter what kind of violence, intimidation, and prevarication it takes.

And that's what progressives and moderates should truly fear--that the slippery slope to the end of democracy and the rise of fascism is real. If we don't hold the extreme right at bay, if we allow armed militias and their allies to take an upper hand, we shall find ourselves in a totalitarian state in which even if elections are allowed to continue, they will be rigged to the advantage of those who would seek to rule all of us with the proverbial iron fist. Any belief in fairness, justice, and equality is for suckers.

As a strategy, fear works. Remember Mel Brooks' 2000-Year-Old-Man? "Everything we do is based on fear," he told his interviewer Carl Reiner. As he related his life as a caveman back in the bad old days, he explained that as primitive life evolved, singing, dancing, locomotion, handshakes, all were motivated by fear. "Even love?" Reiner asks. Brooks replies, "Mainly love."

If you must be afraid, be afraid that without enough turnout on our side, the clowns of the right will run the circus; that our representative democracy, the freedom of expression, the right to healthcare, a good education, and a decent wage will vanish down George Orwell's memory hole. And worse.

Their motives weren't pure, but those Nixon guys in '68 had the messaging right: This time, vote as if your life depends on it. Because this time, American citizens of 2022, it really does.

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