Chicken Little and Democrats

My little southern state of Arkansas is politically reflective of the nation only in an exaggerated and negative way.

If there is fear out there in America, or some kind of rightward political backlash based on that fear, then it will appear a bit more pronounced amid the cursedly independent rural conservatism that prevails here.

I say that to relate this: A poll of this little state last week showed a wholly inoffensive and decidedly centrist Democratic U.S. senator, Blanche Lincoln, in a statistical dead heat for re-election with three Republicans, none of whom has name identification exceeding 7 percent and two of whom haven't even declared their candidacies.

This same poll showed a majority trusting Rush Limbaugh more than Barack Obama and a majority unconvinced that Obama is a citizen of the United States.

I'll leave any comments to you. I live here. I love it anyway.

What I'm saying is that the sky is falling on Democrats. Chicken Little knew whereof he cried.

It's because America is afraid.

You know -- don't you? -- that anger, especially the overwrought kind on display at town meetings, reflects fear.

It so happens, speaking in general American political terms, that Democratic proposals tend to generate fear in opponents while Republican proposals tend to generate only disgust.

Better in politics to disgust than to scare.

Fear is a more powerful human and political force. It is active, malignant. It can send you into the street, some with a sidearm. Disgust is passive, benign. It probably will cause you only to grumble in the privacy of your own home.

I suspect that few people react with more instinctive negativity than I to most prevailing conservative Republican notions. But I do not feel fear, or at least any immediate threat to my safety or way of life, when I ponder these prevailing Republican notions. I'm merely disgusted.

I do not fear that cutting my taxes will harm me immediately; I'll take the few bucks and simply walk around disgusted that cutting everyone's taxes will hurt the country in the long run and favor the well-do-do unfairly.

I do not think that torture of terrorist suspects will harm me immediately; to the contrary, it might, in its moral disgrace, provide me a guilty sense of greater physical safety.

Democrats, on the other hand, want only to change the way people get their doctor and hospital care extended and their medical bills paid. Nothing is more personal than that.

Tax cuts and torture are much easier to get done than fixing a fatally flawed health care reimbursement system.

Go to a town hall meeting. Except for the rabid anger, the most consistent thread is that people begin their comments anecdotally -- about their own care or that of a loved one.

Four in five Americans have health insurance and, while occasionally exasperated by the process and expense, they tend to find it acceptable, at least in comparison to uncertain change. Thus they are susceptible to the stoking of fear by opponents, who raise the specter of soaring costs, higher taxes, reduced benefits, longer waits, rationed care.

Seniors hear about savings to be gleaned in Medicare reimbursement rates. They react with a range of fears, from a worry that fewer doctors will participate in Medicare to outright terror that they might actually die sooner and more horribly than they would otherwise.

The fear is irrational. We fear the wrong thing -- change rather than an unsustainable status quo.

By the way, speaking of Chicken Little: If you'll remember, he was trying to warn the king that the sky was falling, which it actually wasn't, only to find that the fox was leading him into the fox's deadly den. I commend the parable to contemporary America.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@