Republican Scare Tactics: Can They Do It Again?
Republicans have always capitalized on the gullibility and fear of low-information voters. George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign is a prime example.
When John Kerry tried to get some “bounce” out of his convention by embarking immediately on a bus tour through the heartland, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced that Al Qaeda had been surveying buildings in New York and New Jersey as possible targets. The media went into a frenzy over Ridge’s claims and all but ignored the Kerry trip. The print media (bless ‘em) eventually revealed that the supposed proof of the surveillance had been in hand for four years. There was no particular reason for Ridge to release it when he did…unless it was to usurp news time that would have been devoted to Kerry.
Director Ridge bristled at such speculation, and explained that the timing was not political. Ridge said, “The Homeland Security Department doesn’t do politics!” And proceeded to hold a news conference in one of the buildings that he had named as a terror target, after which Laura, Jenna and Barbara Bush held a media event in one of the others.
Another hoax was perpetrated a few days later when the FBI reported that U.S.military officials in Iraq had sent them some terrorist surveillance of school buildings in America. It turned out to be the notebook of an American supporter in a refugee camp in the Kurdish zone, and it wasn’t surveillance at all, but notes for an education project in Iraq downloaded from public sites on the Internet.
In August, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge ratcheted up fear about “sleeper cells” when they announced the arrest of a 66-year-old man who, they say, planned to blow up the Dirksen Federal Building with fertilizer. The FBI had sold him the fertilizer. The case quietly disappeared.
On the same day, in New York and New Jersey, the FBI raided 2 homes in connection with the anthrax mailings of 2001. No one was arrested in the raids, though Ashcroft made much of the fact that one of the homeowners was arrested later at a motel–after a domestic disturbance.
On the same day, in Albany, New York, the FBI arrested two mosque officials who ran a pizza joint and vocally supported America’s war against terrorism. An FBI informant loaned them (loaned, not paid) 65-thousand dollars to purchase a grenade launcher from another FBI operative. (They needed the money for their pizzeria.) The hapless suspects were charged with terrorism and money laundering. The sting had taken 18 months. An Assistant Attorney General said it was “not the case of the century.” But it dominated the news for a few days prior to the election.
The day climaxed with the President saying “This proves that my tough stand on terrorism is paying off.”
It certainly paid off in Ohio, where another highly doubtful terrorism event took place on election night:
In Warren County, officials said there was a Homeland Security issue–they rated it a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10–and they locked down the courthouse. Warren was previously a safely Republican County but Kerry had been hitting the area hard. Then came the Homeland Security alert and everyone was locked out of the courthouse and Bush got over 72% of the votes.
And the news media, with the notable exception of Keith Olbermann, didn’t seem to care.
(The media reported the Republican terrorism gimmicks with Breaking-News breathlessness, but did not get so excited over the other big election story out of Ohio: the funny math in Precinct IB of Gahanna where—out of 800 registered voters, Bush got 4,258. In Cuyahoga County, there were 93,136 more votes than registered voters.)
Republican math may be as scary as their terror stories. But even more terrifying is a news media that doesn’t seem to want to offend members of the low-information/FOX-watching segment of the electorate that Republicans often capture with scare tactics.