Fear is how Americans are reacting to the economy

A new CNN poll confirms what Barbara Hadel has been hearing for months.

We're scared.

"We'd love to move to another home, but not in this economy!" That's usually the final answer when Hadel, a Reece & Nichols Co. real estate agent, makes courtesy calls to potential clients.

"They don't really say what it is, specifically, they're afraid of," Hadel said. "It's just that elusive unknown, 'the economy,' in quotation marks."

Seventy-three percent of Americans who responded to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday said they were somewhat or very "scared" about the way things are going in the United States, even though just as many said they were doing fine personally.

Last week, in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Bill Clinton floated the fear factor — and suggested President Barack Obama was too downbeat. The former president gave Obama top marks for addressing the crisis, but "I just would like him to end by saying that he is hopeful and completely convinced that we're gonna come through this."

Some critics are calling on Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to sprinkle a little optimism today on Capitol Hill, where both are slated to deliver remarks. Tonight's speech by Obama to a joint session of Congress cannot avoid including some of the grim realities faced by the government, but a senior adviser to Obama said the speech will offer a road map for "how we get to a better day."

When Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declared "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" at his 1933 inauguration, his audience remained silent. Most likely, they knew they were scared. And, as Americans have shown time and again during crises, they were ready to let government transform itself to help settle their nerves.

Today, fear itself — or something close to it — is flaring here and there, often in puzzling ways.

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