GOP to voters: Be afraid, be very afraid

The Republican presidential contenders are engaged in a televised scaring contest, complete with explosions and sound effects, on the issue of national security. Check under your bed.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Republican Party, Iraq war, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, John McCain, R-Ariz., Rudy Giuliani, 9/11,

GOP to voters: Be afraid, be very afraid

First, an enormous orange fireball booms onto the screen. The camera shakes and a crowd runs for cover. Next, sirens wail, as an abandoned car explodes. Paramedics tote bodies away from another blast. Militants raise their AK-47s and parade across the desert, their faces masked.

What’s the next image that fills the screen, in a Web commercial by John McCain that really puts the “attack” in “attack ad”? Mitt Romney‘s face, above a quote from a Hannity & Colmes appearance where Romney said “a president is not a foreign policy expert.”

The closer the New Hampshire primary gets, it seems, the more terrified the Republican presidential candidates want you to be. That way, you’ll vote for the guy who scared you the worst, and not that guy who’s going to preside over your death at the hands of jihadists. McCain, who wants to shift the conversation away from immigration and onto foreign policy and security issues, has Web ads like “Experience.” Rudy Giuliani — who never misses a chance to remind voters about 9/11 — is airing a TV commercial in New Hampshire called “Ready” that is even more alarming than McCain’s “Experience.” Released just days after Bhutto’s murder, it features footage of the late Pakistani leader, accompanied by a soundtrack of Middle Eastern music. “Hate without boundaries,” intones a narrator. “A people perverted … A nuclear power in chaos.” Mike Huckabee — no foreign policy maven — answered a press conference question about immigration by invoking the specter of Pakistanis with “shoulder-fired missiles” sneaking across the U.S.-Mexico border. Fred Thompson got into the act at Saturday night’s ABC News/Facebook/WMUR debate, proving that even campaigns that don’t have the money to scare people with ads can still try other methods. “We could be attacked with a biological weapon and not even know it for a long period of time,” Thompson told viewers matter-of-factly. (Now enjoy your late local news.)



Scaring people isn’t a new campaign tactic, exactly, nor has it ever been limited to Republicans. Think of Lyndon Johnson’s famous 1964 ad, “Daisy,” which showed a little girl happily counting petals on a daisy until she got nuked, presumably because Barry Goldwater started a war with the Soviets. President Bush certainly used fear in his 2004 reelection bid. Bush’s “Wolves” commercial, by the same ad team now working for McCain, strongly implied that a President Kerry would allow your children to be eaten alive.

But contrast the current Republican menu of ads with the commercials their Democratic counterparts are running — which focus more on healthcare costs or outsourcing (or, simply, corporate greed, in John Edwards’ case) as the dominant threats to our way of life — and the terrifying tenor of the GOP messages stand out. And the themes running through the Republican campaign now signal what any GOP nominee is likely to use against a Democrat in the fall.

Ask Republicans about the issue, of course, and they’ll say the only danger in advertisements that focus on terrorist attacks is that they won’t go far enough. “Whether we live or die is obviously the most important issue,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., an advisor to Giuliani’s campaign and the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. “The greater risk is to ignore reality.”

Giuliani’s package of rhetoric tilts even more toward terror than anyone else’s, in part because so much of his credibility as a national political candidate is built on his response to the 9/11 attacks, but in part because he really seems unable to help himself. At Saturday night’s debate, he began listing terrorist attacks by radical Muslims dating back to the 1960s, trying to hector Ron Paul into recanting his heretical insistence that U.S. foreign policy is to blame for recent attacks. “They have also killed people recently in Bali, in London. They have launched attacks in Germany,” Giuliani said. “Where did the attack on the Munich Olympics take place: in the United States, or did it take place in Germany? I could go on and on.”

McCain’s team, which wants to highlight his long record on defense issues and paint Romney as too inexperienced to trust now, also likes to remind voters that the world is a dangerous place. But they acknowledge the significant political upside in making that case. “We’ve always believed there’s a high likelihood that this election — this primary, but also the general election — will be seen through a national security frame,” Mark McKinnon, his media advisor, told Salon. “And if the frame is national security, the answer is John McCain.” McCain aides think Bhutto’s assassination helped refocus voters on national security, and that part of his recent surge in New Hampshire polls reflects their effort to move the campaign where they want it (though since they can’t afford their own polling, they don’t really know). “We’re playing to our strong points,” said McCain advisor Charlie Black.

Romney is doing the same thing, of course — his New Hampshire ads hit McCain for supporting immigration reform (“even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security,” in Romney’s words) and opposing some of Bush’s tax cuts, territory where Romney’s advisors think McCain will be vulnerable here. After the “Experience” Web ad appeared, Romney aides stepped up their campaign to persuade voters that McCain lashes out at fellow Republicans just for the fun of it. “Choosing to ignore substance and relevant issues, the McCain way has always been to attack opponents in a personal manner,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.

The difference is, unless you’re the Club for Growth, an ad that brings up McCain’s votes against repealing the estate tax just doesn’t have the same visceral pull as one that opens with explosions, segues to corpses and ends with revolutionaries. And among Republican voters, at least, the tactic seems to be working. Giuliani’s relentless focus on terrorism has convinced at least some of the GOP base that he would be the best commander in chief. They seem to think serving as mayor of New York was similar to serving in the military. “It’s like a war going on in New York City,” said Karen Gallagher, of Nashua, who works in publishing and may vote for Giuliani. “I am scared to death if the Democrats get in.” Her friend Valerie Richards endorsed Giuliani’s Bush-style emphasis on preemption. “It’s detrimental if you’re reactive” to terrorist attacks, Valerie Richards told me. Giuliani makes quite clear he wouldn’t wait to be hit before striking back.

If McCain beats Romney in New Hampshire, expect more of the same from McCain. In politics, it’s hard to argue with success. (Expect more of the same from Giuliani whether he comes in first or last.) All year, even when his campaign was flailing, McCain stuck to his guns on terrorism and the war in Iraq, and there’s no reason he’d back off of the topic now that he’s in position to become the front-runner. But based on what we’ve seen so far, that could mean a bleak landscape of bombs and blasts on television throughout January as McCain and Giuliani try to outdo each other. It won’t make for an uplifting campaign, but given the various deviations from Republican orthodoxy among Huckabee, Giuliani and McCain, terrorism may be the only issue they can use to appeal to the entire GOP base.

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>