LOS ANGELES -- If baseball is a microcosm of the American mind, it looks like
the season of wartime unanimity has come to an end
U.S. President George W. Bush had requested that God Bless America be
sung during the seventh-inning stretch of every major-league baseball game "until
further notice," as it had been sung immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist
But this week, as the baseball season kicked off, a number of teams dropped
the song after fans quietly declared "enough, already." At home games
of the Chicago Cubs, the Oakland A's, the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego
Padres, fans will participate in the Star Spangled Banner, the minute of
silence at the ninth minute and eleventh second and will hear the message from
the President at the stadiums packed with Stars and Stripes flags, but the seventh-inning
singing of Irving Berlin's emblematic tribute to a "land that I love"
will be gone.
As goes baseball, so goes war.
While U.S. citizens still are vociferously supportive of the war in Afghanistan
and philosophically agree with the larger war on terrorism, fissures emerged this
week in the solid wall of unquestioning support for the Bush administration's
foreign policy since Sept. 11.
This was evident on the streets, where the administration lost credibility
by making an awkward attempt to expand the war-on-terrorism rhetoric to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and where the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban appeared stalled
as the allied forces failed again to capture Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Bush is no longer viewed by all as a national hero, especially not by Democrats.
A poll conducted this week by Ipsos-Reid and the Cook Political Report indicates
that only 56 per cent of Americans think their country is headed "in the right
direction," down 12 percentage points from the impressive 68 per cent measured
in January. Of the 2,000 people polled, 36 per cent think the country is headed
"down the wrong track," up seven points from January, according to the
Significantly, Mr. Bush has experienced a nine-point drop in public approval
for "handling foreign-policy issues and the war on terrorism," although
that approval dropped to a still impressive 77 per cent, the poll suggests.
Many U.S. observers say the changing mood can be traced partly to the Bush
administration's failure to secure a Middle East ceasefire, as well as the President's
attempts to link Palestinian suicide bombers and a potential attack on Iran to
the war on terrorism.
"He wants to make those things a part of his war on terrorism, and it's
really not necessary or even beneficial to do that," Michael O'Hanlon, a fellow
at the Brookings Institution, said yesterday. "People here have enough reasons
to hate Saddam Hussein, like the possibility that he has nuclear weapons, that
it only hurts the case to try to make these things fit into the war framework."
Another reason for the wavering support: Democrats, who until quite recently
were reluctant to make public any criticisms of Mr. Bush's foreign policy, are
making political hay by painting many of his foreign strategies, including the
execution of the war, as Republican initiatives, rather than national missions.
The charge this week was led by John Kerry, Democratic senator from Massachusetts
and a potential presidential candidate.
"Make no mistake about it; we are united as never before as a nation in
our commitment to win the war abroad. But we cannot permit Republicans to pretend
that the war is the only issue before our country. Patriotism is not defined by
avoidance of issues at home. Patriotism is the courage to fight for those things
that strengthen and defend our nation," Mr. Kerry said in a speech.
These phrases were echoed by many Democrats, including former presidential
candidate Al Gore, who returned to the political arena last weekend. Mr. Gore,
who for the most part has maintained a low profile since Sept 11, attended a party
meeting in Florida and did nothing to end rumours that he will seek the presidency
in 2004. He had even shaved off his beard.
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, appeared to be struggling to hold on to his war-hero status,
as pollsters acknowledged that his greatest weakness is that he, like Mr. Gore,
is a mere politician. "The more [the Democrats] politicize him, the more they
reduce his aura," Frank Newport of the Gallup polling organization said.
Backing the war
According to polls taken by Ipsos-Reid/Cook Political Report, Americans in
March and April were less inclined to think that the country is headed in the
right direction with the war on terrorism than they were according to the January
The first survey was taken Jan. 4-6 and 18-21.
The latest survey was taken on March 14-17 and April 12-14.
March/April survey January survey
Country headed in the right direction................56%.............................68%
Country headed in the wrong direction..............36%.............................29%
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