By Baynard Woods
Jim DeMint recently criticized President Obama saying that â€œthere is no question that the president has downplayed the risk of terror since he took office.â€
When CNNâ€™s Campbell Brown asked DeMint how Obama has downplayed the risk of terror, at first the senator looked a little befuddled. Then he puffed out, â€œWell,â€ and paused for something that was almost a laugh, â€œit begins with not even being willing to use the word.â€
Of course, it was determined that DeMint was entirely off base and he actually came close to something like an apology, saying that Obama was actually â€œusing the right approachâ€ to terror. So, DeMintâ€™s claim tells us nothing about Barack Obama, but it can tell us a great deal about Jim DeMint. Remember, before he entered politics, DeMint was an ad executive and owned his own marketing research firm. In this context it is easy to see that DeMint was pushing a particular word in order to defend and redefine a brand. But what word was it?
One would think that the word would be â€œterrorismâ€ and the â€œterroristsâ€ who practice it. But the word that DeMint used was not â€œterrorismâ€ but â€œterror.â€ The distinction may not seem important. But it is DeMint who is obsessed with the ways that we talk about terror. So we must ask both why he uses the word â€œterrorâ€ instead of â€œterrorismâ€ in this context and what he means when he said that Obama â€œdownplaysâ€ it.
The word â€œterrorâ€ is important for Republican branding because the â€œWarâ€ is not on â€œTerrorismâ€ or â€œTerroristsâ€ but on â€œTerror.â€ Terror is a psychological state that terrorism attempts to produce.
In order to fight a war on terror, the public needs to be effectively terrified, or, by
definition, there is nothing to fight against. If we are not terrified, then the terrorists are just criminals. So, when DeMint says that Obama is downplaying terror, he means that he does not take the approach to terrorists that will produce the maximum amount of terror in the American people. DeMint has effectively invested his political future in your fear. If you are not afraid, he will not win. It is that simple.
The word â€œterrorâ€ has a certain majesty to it. Edmund Burke, the real founder of Conservatism, linked terror to the sublime. In order to feel terror, something must be immense and somewhat grand. I will admit I felt terror on the morning of September 11, 2001. But I did not feel terror this Christmas. I would have if I were on the Northwest flight 253â€”sure. Just as I would have were I on the famous Sullenberger flight (the plane that was successfully ditched in the Hudson River last year). Flying is dangerous. The government does its best to keep terrorists off our planes. But we ought to be grateful that our citizens were strong enough and brave enough to respond to the threat.
This is where DeMintâ€™s position becomes philosophically murky. He constantly rails against government effectiveness. He claims that government is inefficientâ€”not because of a particular administration, but by nature. Yet, in this case, he expected the government to be perfect, while downplaying the effectiveness of citizen action. Why did he downplay citizen action? Because it downplays terror. If we are relatively effective at fighting terroristsâ€”after all, we caught this clownâ€”then we are not as scared.
If a â€œterroristâ€ is one who uses violence to produce terror in a populace in order to achieve some political end, perhaps we ought to use the word â€œterrorticianâ€ to refer to politicians like DeMint who use rhetoric to create terror in the populace for political ends.
Terrorticians like DeMint actually help the terrorists. For instance, right now, every terrorist in the world knows that there is no chief of the TSA because of Jim DeMint.
DeMint is afraid that Erroll Southersâ€”Obamaâ€™s appointment to head the TSAâ€”will unionize the agency. He called the Underwear Bomber â€œa perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA.â€
The connection isnâ€™t clear. It would be much easier to say that the events of Christmas day are a perfect example of why DeMint should allow the confirmation of Southers as head of TSA.
But DeMint has a great deal to gain by this gambit. His voice sounds so weird when he talks about the TSA because his mouth is full of drool. Imagine the Republican paradise where unions were considered terrorists. DeMintâ€™s attacks are often petty, but his designs are grand.
Baynard Woodsâ€™ book â€œCoffin Point: Legend of the Witchdoctor Sheriffâ€ will be released by River City this year.