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What's With that Stubborn One-Third of the American Public?

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In recent days, I've seen an opinion poll that puts the support for President Bush (those who "approve" of the way he's handling his presidency) at 31 percent and one that puts it at 35 percent. So, let's just say that one-third of the people tell pollsters that they approve of GWB.

I've always taken this at face value. And it leads me to despairing questions like: what do these people know and what do they not know? what are they doing with the information that they do know that ought to make "approval" for this president impossible for any thinking and decent person? what would it take for their opinion of him to change toward disapproval?

But lately, it has occurred to me that perhaps we ought not take these numbers at face value. What I've been thinking about is some of the underlying psychological and cultural dynamics of loyalty. I'm not sure how accurate my intuitive sense of these dynamics is, but what I am thinking is something along these lines.

Perhaps with some substantial portion of them, what they say to the pollsters really means this:

"I really am troubled about a lot of things that are going on with Bush and his presidency. But damned if I'm going to tell some pollster about my concerns. However bad Bush may be, he is one of us, he has the same enemies I do. Like the liberal press, those elite media outfits with their pollsters and such. I'll keep my reservations about Bush to myself rather than add them to the poll and help encourage my enemies. Maybe I'll say something about them, but only in private with other guys like me who know where the real battle lines are drawn. We've got to stick together-- subordinating the present problems with this incompetent president to a longer view of the long-term problem of us-against-them. So I'll stay loyal to President Bush as part of staying loyal to the larger cause --the culture war, including an idea of patriotism-- that made me support him in the first place."

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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