“The only thing we
have to fear is fear itself.”
— Franklin Delano
Though it’s often
repeated in numerous contexts, that phrase doesn’t make sense. There
are LOTS of things to fear besides fear itself.
I just looked it up.
President Roosevelt didn’t say it at the beginning of WWII, as I had
thought, when everyone knew there was good reason to fear Nazis and
Japanese imperialists. He said it in the context of a run on the
banks during the Depression, and his definition of fear in that
context was “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which
paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.
Well, OK then. My fear
for America hasn’t begun to paralyze my advocacy for “needed efforts
to convert retreat” from the Bill of Rights and American
exceptionalism. But rational fear is a proper response to danger.
What really scared me
was the recent news item about the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) assault on the “freedom of the press” section of the First
This became news,
albeit barely covered by the mainstream media, when an FCC
Commissioner, Mr. Ajit Pai, had an op-ed column published in the
Wall Street Journal (Feb. 10), in which he argued that “The
government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering
No kidding. But
according to Commissioner Pai: “Last May the FCC proposed an
initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across
the country. With its ‘Multi-Market Study of Critical Information
Needs,’ or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill
reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which
stories to run …
“The purpose of the CIN
… is to ferret out information from television and radio
broadcasters about ‘the process by which stories are selected’ …
along with ‘perceived station bias’ and perceived responsiveness to
First, the agency
selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the
“environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local
newscasters should cover.
OK, that’s enough to
scare the living daylights out of any American. Keep in mind that
broadcasters would be out of business without an FCC license so they
have reason to be afraid themselves. And oddly, the CIN study
includes newspaper newsrooms, where the FCC has no authority.
Once this issue became
public, the FCC backed down, sort of, for now. Though few media
outlets were shouting their First Amendment rights from the
rooftops, I’m assuming that phone calls were made to Washington
D.C., some of them from the typical media-mogul Obama supporters,
indicating displeasure. They had to be thinking that they can’t
count on having their own political biases in charge after the next
election, so they don’t want to establish a precedent.
We need media and
government to be adversarial. We’ve already learned to fear the
union of business and government (fascism) and religion and
government (the Inquisition, and now, fundamentalist Islam). America
was founded to avoid these fearsome power-combinations; later it had
to fight some of them.
It is not reassuring to
hear Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel say that “We are entering an era
where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can
no longer be taken for granted.” Certainly defense budgets should be
scrutinized, but we don’t want a world in which authoritarian
mindsets dominate the seas and the sky!
I recall the Cold War
fear, especially the few days of the Cuban Missile Crisis when we
came very close to nuclear engagement. Maybe that memory makes
members of my generation, college age at that time, less inclined to
think that whatever is scary, can’t happen here.
I like to think that
the media will return, post-Obama, to critical scrutiny of the
presidential powers, as it shares our fear of government intrusion
into privacy and any other assault on our constitutional rights.
A friend recently
surprised me by saying: “Remember when Michele Obama said that for
the first time, she was proud of America? We all thought that showed
a shocking lack of understanding of what America was: the best
country in the history of the world. Well, now I have to say I’m no
longer proud of my country. I hesitated to put my flag out on
Presidents Day, because it no longer stands for the country I knew.”
Later that week, at a
small dinner party, a successful immigrant to America told us,
sadly, “this isn’t the county I emigrated to.” He’s lived in
countries where freedom can’t be taken for granted. It can no longer
be taken for granted here. I understand what my two friends are
But lest we let fear
get in the way of productive action, let’s look at what some other
people fear. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that “In a
sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass
destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass
destruction… ranks right up there with” other challenges like
terrorism, epidemic. What?
Just in time to help us
deal with our fears for America: We laugh. The Obama administration
and other liberals will go too far, voters will wake up, and we’ll
“convert retreat into advance” to make us proud of America again.