I am getting so sick of the fear-mongering in politics, it has been non-stop for months and months. First we have the election with all the lovely fear-mongering about both sides. Both Romney and Obama made it sound like it would be end of civilization if the other got elected. Then Sandyhook happened which was a great tragedy. But gun control advocates and gun right advocates seized on it and turned to fear as a primary message. Gun control advocates made it sound like Sandyhook was a regular occurrence and we could expect it to happen all over the country unless we restrict gun ownership. Gun rights advocates have been wailing about how guns are necessary to fight the evil government which will show up and take over our lives if gun ownership is restricted in any way. Then we move on to the fiscal cliff over the new year and all of the dire prognostications that went with it. Our economy would completely collapse and the world would follow with us. We would all loose our jobs and industry would be destroyed. But that was avoided by kicking the can down the road.
So now we are at sequestration. If you listen to Obama a 2% cut in federal spending is going to completely destroy our country. The way he talks about the dire consequences makes it sound like our country is about to fall apart. Well we are pretty screwed if the country will fall to piece over a 2% reduction in federal spending since we currently projected to spend 131% of federal revenues this years. That means we would need a cut a lot more than 2% in order to stop increasing the national debt let alone reduce the national debt.
Then even after the sequestration showdown this week we have another fear-mongering opportunity. The debt ceiling still hasn’t been addressed yet. Before long we are going to have the same game of chicken we faced in August 2011 and at the beginning of this year already. There will of course be catastrophic predictions on both sides. If we keep racking up a huge national debt then our economy will collapse according to some. If we don’t keep spending at the same rate the economy will collapse according to some. If we don’t raise the debt ceiling in time our interest rates will go up causing our economy to collapse according to some.
Though this only scratches the surface of the problem. The real problem with fear-mongering is that it inhibits any real discussion or attempt to solve the nation’s problems. Human are emotional beings and emotions can easily overcome rational thought. So politicians use emotion as a method of manipulating behavior. The problem is that the whole debate is framed in an emotional manner which makes it difficult to discuss rationally even if you are not emotionally involved. That is because all of the policy options on the table are emotionally based not rationally. So they don’t lend themselves to rational analysis and in fact may be nothing more than knee jerk reactions. Also when both sides are successful are emotionally motivating people to action then a good chunk of the population is not in a position to really analyze the arguments on both sides. Rather emotion has decided which side they stand on and they may not even care what the other side has to say. Furthermore in order to emotionally motivate people it necessary for the message to be extreme. It is hard to get everybody worked up over something that is only of moderate concern or minor concern. Instead the message must be framed as conflict of great import for the future of our nation. This polarizes the electorate. But at the same time it results in politicians staking out extreme claims in order to emotionally motivate the populace. Yet when both sides have staked out extreme positions then little can be done to reconcile the issue because it is too polarized. So that causes a political stale mate where neither side can act to solve the problem being faced.
Unfortunately there is no real solution for fear-mongering. Humans will always be emotional creatures and our emotions can easily overwhelm our rationality. Politicians will always be in the business of manipulating human behavior for their benefit and emotions are an easy target. And there is no reasonable way to restrict fear-mongering since it is based in freedom of speech.