January 25, 2006
Why a Bit of Fear Is In Order

By Tom Bevan

Two years ago I was on a business trip when my wife called and frantically explained that an intruder had broken into our house while she and our two small children were sleeping. She had heard the creak of the hardwood floor outside our bedroom and looked up, expecting to see one of the kids trying to crawl into bed as they sometimes do when they’ve had a bad dream. Instead, she saw the dark shadow of a man standing in the doorframe less than five feet away. She screamed and, thankfully, the intruder raced out the same way he had come in – through the backdoor. Our lives have returned to normal since then but they are not, nor will they ever be the same.

We don’t really talk about the incident any more, but every now and then it will cross my mind. My heart will start to race and I’ll get a deep pit in my stomach over the thought of an intruder being in my home and the unspeakable possibilities we were lucky enough to avoid. As hard as it is to contemplate, things could have turned out much, much worse.

Nevertheless, I live with that memory tucked away in my head every day. A small part of me fears it ever happening again. And even with all the security improvements we have made to help make sure that it doesn’t, that fear is what makes me touch every door and every window in the house before I go to bed at night.

The moral of the story, for those who are wondering, is that maintaining a bit of fear in the face of a real threat is a good thing. In the case of national security, it is an imperative. The sooner we forget what happened on September 11 or come to believe the threat no longer exists, the sooner we become less vigilant, more complacent, and more vulnerable to attack.

This is one of my main beefs with Democrats who continually accuse President Bush of being a “fear monger” for using the threat of terrorism to scare and “divide” people. The fact is that Americans need to be reminded from time to time about the ongoing threat of terrorism, and there is simply no way of doing that without putting people on edge. Terrorism is real, it is scary, and it is now an unfortunate fact of life. Pretending otherwise would be a dereliction of duty for this or any other administration.

The hypocrisy of Democrats on the issue is even more infuriating. They are the ones who have perfected the art of scaring the voting public over the last twenty years with apocalyptic visions that range from farfetched to non-existent. It seems like every two years we’re treated to the same refrain about Granny eating dog food because she can’t afford her pills.

The fact is that all threats are not equal and should not be equally feared. So which is more of a threat worth fearing, exactly: that al-Qaeda will try and explode a bomb in a major U.S. city or that Sam Alito is going to make black people sit at segregated lunch tables? That Bush is going to cause the end of human existence by not signing Kyoto or that terrorists get their hands on a two vials of anthrax or ten pounds of enriched uranium?

A fundamental yet consistently unappreciated fact is that the first thing President Bush does when he gets to work every day is sit down and listen to a litany of threats and plots against the American people. We probably can’t even imagine the magnitude of the hair-raising things he hears, nor can we appreciate how real those threats must appear to a Commander in Chief in charge of national security in a post-9/11 world.

So a bit of fear is in order under the circumstances. Some will suggest this means the terrorists have already won. Hardly. Vigilance driven by focused concern is not weakness, utter complacency is.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics.

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