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Commentary: Tipping Point/Foreign Policy

By Lee Cullum, 90.1 Commentator

Commentary: Tipping Point/Foreign Policy

Dallas, TX –

Three issues-Iraq, illegal immigration and America's relations with other nations, especially in the Muslim world - -may be propelling this country toward a tipping point at which a majority of its citizens will demand new directions. So said Daniel Yankelovich, basing his observations on a recent poll. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Yankelovich said "the Bush administration has about a year before the public's impatience will force it to change course."

The next 12 months may be momentous for the military too. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said at SMU's Tate Lecture Series that those 12 months are how long we have before our troops will be stretched so intolerably that a new structure will be inescapable.

The curious thing about the Yankelovich poll is that fault lines appeared not only between the two political parties, but also between those who attend religious services regularly-at churches, synagogues or mosques-and those who don't. People committed to religious observance tend to favor the war in Iraq as righteous action against evil, while less frequent worshipers are more ready to urge diplomacy, economic sanctions and containment. Yankelovich attributes this phenomenon to the shift of Southern white Protestants from Democrat to Republican after the passage of the civil rights laws.

Before that, both parties took a "'big tent' approach, trying to attract a broad cross-section of the population, and actively religious people" were "fairly evenly divided between the two." We had what journalist Walter Lippmann always said we needed-vigorous debate on the key questions of the day within both parties. Now that is gone, and one Republican observer noted that Karl Rove has gone too far in allowing the president's support to shrink to his right-wing religious base which, according to the Gallup organization, comprises 42 percent of all Republicans and 26 percent of all Americans.

That observer may not be entirely right. Bush's approval rating hovers around 42 percent, which must include more than the religious right to reach that number. Even so, it is down from the 52 percent that reelected him as president. The platform on which he stand he pretty shaky.

Three things, said Yankelovich, are necessary to reach a tipping point: a solid majority, "intensity and urgency" of opinion and the belief that government is responsible for what has gone wrong. The third aspect is not to be overlooked. The foreign-policy issue that most distresses Americans is outsourcing. (Hence John Kerry's invective against "Benedict Arnold companies" in the last election.) But they do not believe the government can prevent the loss of jobs "to lower-wage countries." (Hence, also, Kerry's lack of success with the issue.)

There is no question that public opinion is moving against the war in Iraq, it seems to me. It's only a matter of how long it will take to force a change, though the longer the better. The president really is right about the need to stay the course, if possible, however bitter that may be. The fear of illegal immigration is closely tied to terrorism, and political action on this front would be welcomed in many quarters. However, nothing will happen in Congress until the crisis of Katrina abates. As for American diplomacy, it does need shoring up, and substantial majorities agree, especially that "Washington should be emphasizing diplomacy more than military action" and should improve its relations with Muslim nations. In these three issue lie countless campaigns for Congress next year and probably for president in 2008.

Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.

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