Friday, June 12, 2015

A little less hysteria, please

In 2004, then Senator and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry told a reporter:

'We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance.''

I still think he was right. To me, this was Kerry's finest moment in a unfocused and sometimes craven campaign.

The people of this country used to be far more able to slough off occasional outbreaks of political violence without lapsing into hysterics. This is a big country. Unless terrorists obtain some real weapons, the damage they can do is limited, though obviously devastating for anyone unlucky enough to cross their path.

Does anyone reading here remember this?

... in New York, terrorists took advantage of peak holiday travel to explode a bomb, equivalent to twenty-five sticks of dynamite, that they had hidden in a coin locker -- collapsing the floor and ceiling, hurling shrapnel from the metal lockers that pierced through flesh and left body parts scattered through the main baggage claim area at La Guardia. Fourteen people were killed. No one ever claimed responsibility. No perpetrator was ever found.

Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge

That was in 1975. I certainly don't recall that particular horror. If it happened today, we would be exhorted to immerse ourselves in the story 24/7, hold commemorations, and take on the full trauma. There were 89 bombings that year in the United States attributed to terrorists. I don't remember us deforming our entire society in response. We may not have kept calm, but we simply carried on.

This week Gallup published a poll about our attitudes to the proper balance between civil liberties and intrusive government measures against the threat of terrorism.

Republicans and Democrats currently hold similar views of whether maintaining security or protecting civil liberties is more important in government anti-terror efforts. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 66% say civil liberties should be the higher priority and 29% say protecting citizens from terrorism should be. Meanwhile, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prioritize civil liberties over security by 64% to 32%.

At the same time, most people (55%) think the sort of spying on citizens for which Edward Snowden provided evidence does not violate their civil liberties. But 41% do feel violated. Frankly, I'm surprised the latter number is that high. Our "civil liberties" are very abstract as they relate to government spying without felt consequences. For a lot of people, liberty means not being shot by a rampaging police officer, not some agency collecting your internet activity. Meanwhile we freely give away our "private" preferences and excitements on Facebook.

The question about whether we feel violated is a new one for Gallup. We won't know until they ask it repeatedly whether this is a perception that changes with the news. I think it might -- either way.

In general, this poll made me feel a little better about the good sense of my fellow citizens. Maybe we can stop responding foolishly to distant provocations. That would be hard with politicians fueling fear, but collectively we're not completely nuts.

H/t Digby for pointing to the poll.

2 comments:

Hattie said...

There is a disconnect here. Even very bright people I know are refusing to analyze the workings of power at the macro level. I'm going to think about this matter for a while and then write something about it.

Brandon said...

Have you read this?

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/307365/days-of-rage-by-bryan-burrough/

Burrough says that most of the bombings were "protest bombings", intended not to kill or even hurt people. And they were so frequent that people took them in stride.

But 9/11, in particular the World Trade bombings, was unprecendented. Who knows how people in the `70s would have reacted?

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