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Continental Courage

Where do you find courage in this country? Not in the southern or western U.S., which overwhelming succumbed to the Bush campaign's fear mongering and Dick Cheney's demented suggestion that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for the terrorists.

The result of the 2004 presidential election shows that those red, rural states betrayed the macho, hairy-chested creed they'd like us to think they live by. They rolled over for George Bush's hollow boast of "mission accomplished" in Iraq and his craven call to the terrorists — from the safety of the Oval Office — to "bring it on." They are responsible for the re-election of a man who lacks the guts to tell the truth about why he ordered the invasion of Iraq — and who can't summon the courage to take responsibility for his many failures in prosecuting that war. The real WMD of the 2004 campaign is W's Mass Deception. Sadly, too few people in those critical red states were brave enough to call him on it.

What, exactly, are rural Americans afraid of? Recent history shows that they have little to fear from terrorism. Al Qaeda doesn't attack corn fields and Wal-Marts; it targets urban centers and the symbols of America's might. The vast majority of the 3000 people who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers were from three of those brie-eating, white-wine swilling East Coast states — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The real heroes of 9/11 are the New Yorkers of 9/12, who buried their dead and, even in their grief, set about rebuilding the city. Those people — as well as the citizens of Washington, DC, who suffered the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon — might be forgiven for buying into Cheney's apocalyptic visions of dirty bombs and mushroom clouds. But they didn't. Instead, they found the courage to take a risk and reach for change. They saw through Bush's campaign of fear and intolerance; by a wide margin, they voted for Kerry.

In his essay In Search of Courage, which ran in Fast Company's Sept. 2004 issue, Senator John McCain wrote that, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears." The people of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and DC — those who suffered the most from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — found the courage to act, despite their fears. So too did the people of so many cities — from Boston to Chicago to LA to Seattle. The very people who are most likely to endure a future attack courageously rejected the fear factor of Bush's campaign. Our great challenge, over the next four years, will be to convince those quaking, queasy voters in the nation's heartland to snap out of it. They must, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, "do the thing they think they cannot do." If they don't find the courage to fight off Bush/Cheney's breathtaking capacity to play on their fears, then I'm afraid we'll all have real reason to fear for this country's future.