Most of America has been paying attention to the ins and outs of the "War on Terror" or "Showdown With Saddam." Every day brings a new wrinkle, a new revelation, a new piece of evidence, or a new tack in diplomacy. Sometimes, it is hard to keep up.
Nevertheless, a most intriguing trend to watch has been the various polls that track the President's popularity and the American public's support of him and his policies. They soared after 9-11 and after America's decisive campaign in Afghanistan. Ever since, however, there has been steady erosion in his support. The March 11 New York Times/CBS News Poll found that only 55 percent of Americans support the war on Iraq. Though this number was up from a previous poll, it was down by about 20 points from the time when Bush's intentions first became known. Over the past year, the percentage of Americans who believe that President Bush enjoys the respect of world leaders has dropped 22 points, from 67 percent to 45 percent.
Does this sound familiar? After Desert Storm, George Bush 41, the current President's father, squandered 90 percent approval ratings over the next few years, finally giving the Oval Office to the most corrupt and immoral man ever to hold the land's highest post. Are we seeing a repeat performance?
The parallels are eerie. Bush 41, with his background in the CIA and as an ambassador, was fixated on foreign affairs. He and his administration forged the greatest alliance of nations the world has ever seen to win Kuwait back from Saddam Hussein's vaunted Republican Guard, a feat accomplished by allied forces in a hundred hours. After this stunning victory—in which Hussein was reprimanded, slapped on the wrist, and told to go to his room, setting up the current conflict—Bush 41 talked about his vision for a New World Order. Domestically, however, he made gaffe after gaffe, allowing the economy to plunge. Finally, his "read my lips: no new taxes" lie sealed his fate.
Bush 43 is similarly engrossed with world affairs. He began to push his domestic agenda through a starkly divided Congress, primarily in the Senate, when the terror attack shifted his focus to fighting al-Qaida and terrorism in general. Since then, nothing significant has seemed to happen on the home front that is not connected with the war effort (for instance, the new Department of Homeland Security). As he peers through his binoculars at goings-on in Europe and the Middle East, the ignored domestic economy stagnates, waiting for the war to give it a push one way or the other.
The March 11 poll shows where the U.S. public's mind is on all this. Even after the President carefully explained the situation and his position on the war with Iraq last week, "the poll found that the economy continues to be a concern, with 35 percent of the respondents saying it is the most important problem facing the nation, compared with 23 percent who pointed to Iraq." As Bill Clinton said in the campaign in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid."
We should not discount that there are real and significant factors for the delay in the war, the primary reason why Bush has squandered his advantage. For one thing, the Afghan campaign consumed a great deal of America's ordnance, which had to be replaced before moving on to Iraq. It also takes time to move 200,000 soldiers and all their equipment halfway around the world. And we all know about the diplomatic hurdles thrown in front of the American juggernaut. Even so, many of Bush's supporters believe the administration has handled the situation poorly.
Most importantly, there is a spiritual lesson to be learned from this. If, by the grace of God, circumstance, or dumb luck, we find ourselves in a position to make real strides in our character growth, spiritual knowledge, or service to others, we should be careful not to let it pass by. The next time the opportunity comes around, if it does, it may not be so easily achieved.
This is the gist of Hebrews 2:1: "Since all this is true, we ought to pay much closer attention than ever to the truths that we have heard, lest in any way we drift past [them] and slip away" (The Amplified Bible). Spiritually, we can lose just as much by neglect as by outright rejection. So, take advantage of the opportunities that come along to help, to serve, to grow, for they may never pass our way again.
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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