Fear Itself


“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”– FDR
I was thinking about this phrase the other day, because I believe now, more than ever it is true. The election of Obama is a historic event, and we must take this opportunity to uphold hope over fear. Fear has brought us the Salem witch trials, lynching, the holocaust, the Japanese internment camps, the Cold War, the Cuban embargo, hate crimes, Guantanamo, the Patriot Act….the list goes on.

In October, the fear that had gripped the American people was the economy: newspapers, the TV, the radio; everywhere fear abounded. The world was going to end, the stock market was going to crash, and the Great Depression would eventually prove to have been a vacation. It was out of this climate of fear, that the United States Congress chose to grant the Treasury Department virtually unchecked power.

When I came out against the bailout many people criticized me- they pretty much regurgitated what the media had been saying: the economy would fail, the stock market would crash, and now was no time to try to punish the bad guys, because the little guy would suffer.

What worried me most at the time was not that the proposal that would give tremendous amounts of money to the people who had created the mess, but that we would grant near limitless power to a former wall street banker, to do what he would with taxpayer dollars. The attempt to push through the legislation in the span of a week, spurred by a 3 page proposal appalled me, and I called out for people to slow down, and think the things through.

Eventually the congress caved, and despite thousands of angry phone calls & letters from the American people, Secretary Treasurer Henry Paulson was essentially given a blank check. Now, just last week Henry Paulson came out and said he was going to do something completely different with the money, than what he had asked for. Not only did Paulson completely change what he intends to use the money for, but he flaunted his power to do as he wished “I will never apologize for changing a strategy or an approach if the facts change“.

That’s a scary proposition. Translation: “Congress, even if I come to you asking for billions of tax payer dollars to do “X”, and you give it to me, if I change my mind after the fact and decide to “Y”, I will do it. And I won’t be challenged“.  (Read the article here)

The things we are willing to sacrifice due our fear is frightening, and Henry Paulson’s comments last week are really what got me thinking.

So what’s my point? That the economy isn’t failing? No. I do not challenge the fact that we are facing tough times, and decisive action is needed.  That Paulson is making the wrong move? No. The wrong move was made by Congress last month when they gave into fear and granted Paulson virtually limitless authority. Once the government starts granting this much power to one man because they are fearful of the future, we head down a dangerous road.

Lesson of the day: when the government cries the sky is falling, beware of their solutions. Fear puts a blinder on our rationale that must be consciously removed if we are to see clearly and act sensibly.

Perhaps Jon Stewart best expressed the power of fear, in his clever comparison of Bush on Iraq & the economy.