In his 1933 inaugural address, proto-liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt declared his "firm belief" that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Today, many conservatives fear much more than mere fear itself.
First and foremost, conservatives fear that America is in a broad-based decline, and that its best days are behind it. They fear that we have passed the proverbial tipping-point, and it is too late to pull the nation out of its nosedive.
Conservatives fear that American civilization and culture have become irredeemably decadent. Once we enjoyed wholesome and uplifting entertainment, but now we exalt the crude and the gross. Then there was Andy Griffith, now there is Charlie Sheen. Repellant reality programs provide our youth with awful examples.
Conservatives fear the fallout from the fact that our children, often alone or obsessed with their electronic devices, are bombarded with indecent messages. These range from popular music that degrades whereas it used to uplift, to erectile dysfunction commercials, to drug ads that unnecessarily recite disgusting side effects.
Conservatives fear that the family, long the foundation of society, is endangered to the point of extinction. Fatherhood is essentially absent in large swathes of the population, and out-of-wedlock births are increasingly the rule rather than the exception across class and race strata.
Conservatives fear that churches and religion are not only declining, but are being attacked by the government. Charities and compassionate individuals still do great things, but it concerns conservatives that inefficient, secular, and wasteful government has largely displaced the vital roles once played by individual responsibility and voluntary private action.
Conservatives fear that the country’s fiscal foundation is so rotten that there will never be real economic recovery and crisis and collapse will remain real possibilities. The national debt is mind-boggling and growing; too few people work; and too many people are dependent on government largesse financed by borrowed money and high, anti-growth taxation.
Conservatives fear that we can neither continue nor reform our explosive and often counterproductive social welfare spending. They worry that there will be civil discord when budget realities finally force sanity onto such programs.
Conservatives fear that the consequences could be catastrophic if the dollar is displaced as the world’s reserve currency, interest rates and/or inflation rapidly rise, or there is an attack on our electric or internet infrastructure.
Conservatives fear that we cannot afford to spend as much as we need to defend the country. They are afraid that ever more fanatical and dangerously armed Islamic extremists are still waging existential war on America, but that our leadership acts as if that struggle is over merely because it wishes it was.
Conservatives fear that border and ethnic conflicts are breaking out around the globe as they did before World War I and will produce a comparable conflagration. They worry that the rise of far right proto-fascism in Europe is eerily reminiscent of the run-up to World War II.
Conservatives fear that hostile powers like China and Russia are aggressively on the move. They worry that America is tired, turning inward, lacks will, and is perceived as unreliable and weak. They painfully realize that the administration of one of their own, George W. Bush, and congressional Republicans, contributed to the current instability.
Conservatives fear that the country is being invaded across its insecure borders by a tidal wave of illegal Hispanic immigration. They fret that our politics can neither prevent nor cope with the myriad adverse effects of that influx.
Conservatives fear that the cocktail of expanding executive power, government spying, science and technology that outstrip ethics and morality, social media, and legalized marijuana are producing a society similar to those in 1984 and Brave New World. They worry that racial tensions are in some ways more volatile than ever.
Conservatives fear that President Barack Obama, who has already transformed the country for the worse in significant ways, will do even greater damage during his final two years in office. They fret that the Republican nominating process will not produce a candidate capable of beating Hillary Clinton, whom they fear will make matters even worse if elected president.
To be sure, not all conservatives fear all these things, and many conservatives are confident and optimistic about much. Likewise, liberals have a list of their own fears, some of which are just as legitimate as these.
Fear can be corrosive and counterproductive, but it can also provide powerful political motivation. Conservatives must beware the former and make the most of the latter.
As one even greater than FDR once said, "Do not fear; only believe."
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.