The Poll of the Shirt
The polls are saying President Bush is in trouble. His approval rating, by most accounts, is currently somewhere around 50 percent, down from a high of 90 percent right after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and down 10 points just over the past month. Now 50 percent may sound high, but apparently you have to factor into that the fact that many Americans automatically give the benefit of the doubt to any president because of the office, not the man in it, and a 50 percent rating is pretty darned low speaking historically. It’s also a figure that’s been dropping like a stone off a cliff.
But I have my own poll, and it says Bush is in even bigger trouble that the official polls might indicate.
My poll is my favorite T-shirt–a plain white thing with a peace sign on the back and "No War in Iraq" printed in huge brown block letters on the front. I purchased this piece of clothing on the eve of the war while speaking at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Manhattan last spring.
When I first began wearing it around the mostly Republican suburb where I live, just north of Philadelphia, as the war was underway, I got some scowls in the supermarket and the gym. Nobody verbally chewed me out or swung a punch, but there were quite a few definite grimaces and unmistakably angry glares. At the same time, I also got a lot of thumbs up gestures while jogging in the park, and some favorable comments about the sentiment in the checkout line at the local market and at the post office. In general, though, I’d say that back then in March and April, there was enough of a level of discomfort associated with wearing this shirt that I’d always kind of brace myself when I went out wearing it.
No longer. Now when I sport this shirt in public, whether it’s to take my car to the body shop for a fender repair, go running in the park or go grocery shopping, there’s not an unfriendly face to be seen. And plenty of the good Republican citizenry of my community offer friendly encouragement, even if they seem slightly bemused that someone would actually go around wearing such a charged political statement.
I contrast this to my experience as a long-haired college student anti-war activist back in 1968 or 1970, and am stunned at the lack of criticism I’m getting today.
In 1968, it was enough to simply sport a beard and longish hair, as I did at the time, to find myself hauled aside by a bunch of pro-war barstool cowboys in a small town in Nevada and be roughly shorn with a pair of scissors.
Wearing an anti-war T-shirt in a Republican or even a blue-collar Democratic neighborhood even in 1970 was to court cat-calls or worse.
Even in 1991, at the start of Bush Pere’s Gulf War adventure, when I was living up in Ithaca, New York (an island of leftish politics in a sea of conservative upstate Republicans), there was at one point a throng of aggressive, angry, shouting frat boys and ROTC types who tried to attack a peace vigil in the downtown town mall. They had to be kept at bay by local police. My wife, Joyce, who had to drive through a long stretch of upstate New York and central Pennsylvania one day while Desert Storm was underway, actually had to stop her car and remove a sign we’d made with masking tape on the back window of our hatchback saying "No War," because she was having other drivers blare their horns at her and even try to run her off the road as she was driving along.
These days I ride my bike down the main road in town, and haven’t heard one horn honk, and no one has tried to run me into a ditch.
This is all very bad news for the president and his war-mongering advisers.
Americans tend to be a jingoistic lot, and if this war is not rousing those demons in the public, it must mean that there’s a lot of antipathy towards this Iraq war, even among those who voted for Bush in 2000.
If this keeps up, I may even get tempted to start selling copies of my polling shirt.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html