Fear is a great motivator. Back in the 1958, one small nun controlled 60 unruly kids in the third grade class at St. Brigid’s School in Westbury, New York. We all learned to read and do math. We all memorized our prayers. Why? Fear. That good sister wielded a mean ruler.
In politics, fear also can get things done. President Bush used the fear of another terror attack to convince Americans to support the Patriot Act and an aggressive worldwide war against terror killers. The results were mixed, but Mr. Bush had little problem getting the money and consensus he needed.
Now, President Obama is using a page from the Bush playbook. He is flat-out saying that if his giant stimulus package is not embraced by the country, the United States will experience “catastrophe.” He uses the c-word often. He is very clear about the fear.
Interestingly, during the campaign, Mr. Obama derided both President Bush and Senator McCain for using the fear factor. Speaking in Ohio on March 1, 2008, Obama said, “America is at its best when it’s not fearful. I mean, if you think our history, our most shameful times have been when we were afraid.”
Wow, how quickly times change. Now, President Obama is very afraid that the economy will get worse, and he is not shy about saying so.
So, how should we the people process the fear equation?
Well, when George W. Bush and Barack Obama agree on something, I think we have to pay attention. President Bush was genuinely concerned the entire U.S. financial system would melt down last fall unless a massive government bailout was passed immediately. And it was. Who knows if the TARP bailout was smart? But the financial system is still standing, although not exactly on solid ground.
President Obama implies we are heading for another great depression without almost a trillion dollars in government spending to “create and save” four million jobs. So Obama is going to get the money. The interesting thing in the “create and save” scenario is that it is impossible to calibrate. How does anyone know how many jobs are “saved?” This is a smart ploy by Obama on the accountability front.
Cynics will rarely accept political warnings. Many Americans simply don’t trust the government to look out for them. And I believe that skepticism is sometimes warranted. Both Republicans and Democrats allowed the U.S. economy to implode. What, they got smart all of a sudden?
But with job loss accelerating and millions of Americans suffering, I think we have to give the powers-that-be the benefit of the doubt despite our suspicions. However, we should be honest. President Obama does not know whether the trillion dollar rescue strategy will work because no one knows.
That being said, President Obama is right about one thing: He was definitely elected to deal with America’s problems, especially the economy.
So now he has the chance.