Friday, August 26, 2005

Go Ahead, Speak Your Mind. Loudly.

[[P O L L S]] * The results of some public-opinion surveys are so obvious in advance, you have to wonder why anybody bothers conducting them in the first place. Case in point: The latest AP-Ipsos poll query, “Do you think it’s okay for people who oppose the war in Iraq to express their opposition publicly, or not?” An overwhelming 87 percent say “yes,” while only 12 percent oppose such dissent. (One percent answered “not sure.”) The Associated Press summarizes these findings as “a rare example of widespread agreement about a conflict that has divided the nation along partisan lines.”

Not surprisingly, the study found that Republicans are most likely to disapprove of Americans voicing opposition to this conflict. (Full results of the poll are available here.)

With 1,875 American troops (and a total of 2,069 “coalition forces”) having died in Iraq since George W. Bush ordered his “shock and awe” attack on Saddam Hussein’s homeland in March 2003; more than 70 U.S. soldiers being added to that body count just since the prez commenced his record-setting vacation this month in Crawford, Texas; and the continuing protests against this war, not only those led by Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, but others around the nation, Americans are turning increasingly skeptical about this bloody conflict and its handling. The AP-Ipsos poll finds that 42 percent of respondents still believe that going to war against Iraq was the right move, but 53 percent say it was a mistake to begin with--which the AP notes is approximately the same level of opposition measured for the Vietnam War back in August 1968. Thirty-seven percent approve of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war (down from 41 percent in June), while 58 percent disapprove (up from 56 percent in June). And 50 percent of respondents agree that this war has “increased the threat of terrorism around the world” (up from 38 percent in February 2004), while 20 percent say it has “decreased the threat of terrorism” (down from 38 percent in February ’04). Another 28 percent contend that the war has “had no affect on the threat of terrorism.”

But while overall attitudes toward this war have turned negative, a majority of Americans--60 percent in this new AP-Ipsos poll--are still convinced that the United States should keep troops in Iraq “until the situation has stabilized.” (That number is down from 71 percent in November 2004.) Only 37 percent of respondents are calling for an immediate withdrawal of forces. This, despite a bare majority (51 percent) who believe that a stable, democratic government can actually be formed in Iraq. The poll was conducted prior to this week’s surge in political violence and news that a third deadline to complete the writing of Iraq’s new constitution passed on Thursday without agreement, and despite Bush’s intervention in the process, so there’s no read yet on how those additional bits of bad news might affect public opinion.

“Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis,” said 19th-century poet-essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he wasn’t talking about the volume of Howard Dean’s enthusiastic shrieking. No, Emerson was defending the right of Americans to dissent publicly--and at the top of their lungs, when necessary--from party lines or political leaders. Although there’s been considerable misinformation spread in conservative quarters against antiwar protestors, based on the fallacy that opposition will destroy troop morale or embolden the already pretty bold Iraqi insurgency, this AP-Ipsos poll finds the public unconvinced--and prepared to stand behind the constitutional amendment allowing free speech. If Bush hopes to turn the tide back in favor of his war, he’ll have to work a lot harder than giving speeches in GOP-friendly states and simply ignoring the parents of dead soldiers gathered at his Crawford doorstep. More sectarian propaganda directed against dissenters just won’t do it.

READ MORE:Before It’s Too Late in Iraq,” by Wesley K. Clark (The Washington Post); “War Debt: What Do We Owe Cindy Sheehan?” (The New Republic); “Symbolism Is Not a Right-Wing Value,” by Diane E. Dees (MoJo Blog); “Concessions Standoff: Can the Iraqi Constitution Be Saved?,” by Fred Kaplan (Slate); “Iraq Wasn’t a Test of Democracy. It Was a Test of War,” by Deepak Chopra (The Huffington Post); “Bush’s War on Terror Destroys Our Liberties,” by Nicholas von Hoffman (Dissident Voice); “Devolution of the Smirk” (Rising Hegemon).

ADDENDUM: A new Gallup Organization Poll confirms an earlier Harris Interactive Poll showing that Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to 40 percent--his lowest rating since entering the White House in January 2001. Fifty-six percent of the Gallup respondents disapprove of the prez’s performance in office.

No comments: