How Do Current Events Affect Public Opinion of America's Weaknesses?
If physics can lend anything to the sphere of political science, it is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. As the world becomes more quickly polarized than ever before, the public opinion of the America, both internally and externally, has never been more important. Despite the significance of popular support for the American nation as battles surge overseas and nebulous danger threatens the home front, recent events in the Middle East, at home, and throughout the rest of the world have caused a degeneration of support. The power of public opinion is nothing new; the lessons of Vietnam have never been more relevant in the formation of an American policy campaign to garner support than now. In both past and present circumstances, the power of current events on the formation of public opinion is clear; while it can serve to bolster support for an administration in good times, in bad times, current events and their coverage transform public opinion, zoning in on and becoming the core of America's weakness.
"Iraq to investigate alleged abuse of 173 detainees."
"The Revision Thing: Democrats made a key mistake when they voted for the Iraq War: They trusted the President."
"Senate rebukes Bush on Iraq War policy."
The most recent headlines make clear the modern history of the United States: one of disjoint, confusion, and dismay. While the media sources reveal the chagrin manifested in the 60% of Americans who disapprove of the President's performance in office, it is the interminable bombardment of the American people with news of a failing war campaign in Iraq, disagreement on the home front, and growing concern over recent events that have drawn attention to America's weaknesses.
The correlation of public opinion and popular view of recent events on the widespread support, or its dearth, for the ruling government is nothing new. While a prolific and pervasive problem, the failings of perception can be the downfall of an administration and, by extension, its nation's power in the greater sphere. When Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger contemplated the viability of American military intervention abroad in 1984, he well understood the importance that the support of the citizenry would play. "There must be some reasonable assurance that we will have the support of the American people," he said.
The role of public support for the American government has traced its perceptions of strengths and weaknesses since the dawn of the nation. In 1937, public opinion fostered the lens through which the power of the administration was viewed when President Roosevelt suggested the reorganization of the Supreme Court nine to fifteen members.
This reconstruction was not without significant support, but its popular hesitation was more critical.
"Enlargement of the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen members was the most controversial feature of the general reorganization of the federal judiciary proposed by the President, aimed at speeding up the process of clearing cases through the federal court system, and making the system more 'representative' of the wishes of the people."
The enlargement of the system was welcomed by many for the speed with which it could usher long-standing and expense-ridden cases through the judiciary, but recent events cast a shadow of doubt upon the plan. The recent New Deal plan, while absolving many of the nations woes, came on the heels of the market crash and ensuing Depression. In an era in which so many people's futures were cast upon the fortune of national finances, the expansion of one President upon the law of the land was frightening. The power of one President to nominate, one Congress to vet, and one pool of applicants from which to choose six new Supreme Court Justices was too perceived to be too much power for one administration to hold, even if the goal of that administration was to prevent the Court from being able to "usurp" its own powers and exert them unduly upon the citizens of the United States.
From February to April of the same year, Gallop polling tested the national waters in terms of favor for President Roosevelt's proposal.
Not even half of the surveyed American populace approved of the plan.
At the same time, the New York Times was as avidly reporting the Capitol squabble then as it is today. According to the Times, 35 senators at the time stated they were "uncommitted" to the plan, 28 were firmly "against," and only 32 were on the record as "favoring" the plan.
As this discontent was disseminated to the people, a paralleled reverberation was witnessed upon all walks of American society.
The story is familiar. Fifty years later, the "Weinberger Doctrine" was characterized as the vital requirement for governmental action. Not all of Washington's officers were as willing to bow to the popular opinion, though, and actively disagreed with the plan.
"[Weinberger]'s cabinet colleague, Secretary of State George Shultz, publicly disagreed with the 'Weinberger Doctrine,' characterizing it both at that time and later in his memoirs as an unreasonably stringent set of preconditions that would rarely, if ever, bet met. Consequently, Shultz argued, these restrictions effectively would serve as an excuse for inaction, even when vital American interest abroad were potentially threatened."
Their argument was a foundational moment in the construction of American foreign and public policies. Their disagreement extended from varying interpretations of the end of the Vietnam war, but within ten years, the end of the Cold War would make clear that the modern world was one in which widespread dissemination of facts, figures, and media-influenced mindsets warranted ample public opinion and support.
Without factoring in public opinion, "post-Cold War interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and pats of the former Yugoslavia have, if anything, sharpened rather than tempered debates about the use of American armed forces abroad."
The failed fist intervention into Iraq was quieted by discouraging American opinion that the war had become too much of a crisis to be pushed any longer, but the tragic events of 9/11 brought America to its knees. Deeply wounded, the people of America united despite their recent polarized election to defend the feeling of safety they had known at home and the presence of their nation in idea abroad.
Bush witnessed almost complete approval in a polarized nation in 2001. After the attacks in New York, America was a nation of fear, concern, and craving for strength, and on what now is popularly viewed as less than perfect evidence, he garnered approval from both sides of the aisle as he waged war on Afghanistan and later Iraq, seeking out terrorists wherever they might lay -- or plan. In 2001, recent events spurred his support; in 2005, recent events are responsible for his weakness, and by association, that of America as a whole.
"For the first time in his presidency, a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with a record of negative ratings on the economy, Iraq, and even the war on terrorism, a new Washington Post-ABC polls."
While the subject of the debate has changed since the 1930s, those recording public opinion and the power of the results have not.
Since the 9/11 bombings, major events have blanketed the media outlets throughout the world. Accusations of faulty evidence combine with reports of violence to prisoners of war and acts of terrorism around the globe have undermined the authority with which the President went to war. Domestically, problems have been accentuated by the fumbled response to Hurricane Katrina, the social and economic issues made clear by the flooding of New Orleans and its aftermath, and the faulty and failed nomination of Harriet Miers as possible Supreme Court Justice.
While these events splayed the President's name all over the news citing the weakness of his administration, it is the discontent in the White House that has caused the most problems. "The CIA leak case has apparently contributed to a withering decline of how Americans view Bush personally," the Washington Post reports. They are not alone; the problems of Scooter Libby's indictment has spread as far as the hallowed ranks of right-wing Fox News. On November 14, Fox's Chris Wallace asked two Republican Governors, "When you combine the election results Tuesday night with the President's drop in the polls, with growing doubts about Iraq and other issues -- and, Governor Huckabee, why don't we start with you -- how much trouble are the President, the White House, and congressional Republicans in right now?"
Very clearly, the answer is printed on the headlines of all the other news sources: the President, and the administration as a whole, is in trouble. Because recent events have undercut his trustworthiness at home, his support has faltered. By response, so has the perception of America's worthiness in the global eye, much as it has domestically.
No matter what the era, recent events highlight the power with which a leader, or group of leaders, runs…