Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Political change expected in future after Sept. 11

The events of Sept. 11 had an unparalleled effect on the nation. Although the attacks occurred just three months ago, fundamental characteristics of American life have already changed, and political changes are imminent.

Perhaps the most drastic shift in American culture has taken place in politics. Traditionally, Americans have been critical of leadership and outspoken in debates, but recent polls have shown a turnaround in the way Americans view the government.

“For the first time since the mid-1960s, Americans have shown a real support in government,” said James Baughman, UW-Madison professor of journalism. “It’s an enormous trust.”

The role of the government has changed because people have begun to rely on the government for guidance, understanding and consolation, according to UW history professor Thomas Archdeacon.

“[Sept. 11] has made Americans more inclined to look to government more as a source of protection than as a threat to their interests,” he said.

Baughman said Bush’s approval rating has increased since the attacks, and although patriotism typically rises in times of crisis, the president has earned his newfound approval.

“Bush has benefited enormously, and not just because of a national rally-around-the-flag effect,” he said. “He has shown himself to be up to the challenge.”

Kathy Cramer Walsh, UW assistant professor of political science, said congressional approval has also increased, and this change is uncommon.

“There’s not only trust in the president, but also in Congress,” she said. “Usually the rise is not necessarily found in Congress, but attitudes toward government have, across the board, improved.”

Whether the surge in government approval is a positive or negative change is not yet known; arguments exist for both sides.

Jeremi Suri, UW assistant professor of history, said cynicism among politicians and voters prevented the government from doing its job prior to the attacks.

“Knee-jerk skepticism had reached a point that was unhealthy,” he said. “Trust in government is needed to have social success.”

Jon Pevehouse, UW political science professor, said an improved view of the government may encourage Americans to learn more about the workings of public institutions.

“Hopefully, people are becoming more educated and informed,” he said.

Despite the positive effects of a greater confidence in government, many experts believe the trust has prevented people from speaking out against government actions.

“Critical-thinking skills have turned off,” Pevehouse said.

Walsh said in situations of national crisis, a balance between patriotism and criticism of the government is difficult to find.

“In a democracy, you would hope there would be active debate,” she said. “There is something to be said for national unity, but in a democracy you want both.”

The patriotism debate has worked its way into the dynamics of political parties. Archdeacon said Republicans and Democrats are trying to speak in a unified voice after the terrorist attacks, but attaining complete cooperation is difficult.

“[Increased support of Bush has] put Democrats in the awkward position of trying to make reasonable critiques of what the president and the Republican Party are doing,” Archdeacon said.

Archdeacon also said increased support for Bush makes his reelection a real possibility.

“[The approval] could give him quite a long ride,” he said. “It might virtually ensure him a reelection. But a lot depends on how the war goes and how long the struggle lasts. If the crisis ends rather abruptly, it is possible people [will] have forgotten the events by 2004.”

While Americans were alerted to the immediate repercussions of the terrorist attacks, some fear public interest in the situation is dwindling.

“I think there are signs that interest is letting up some,” Baughman said. “It’s hard to sustain.”

Interest in foreign policy has not altered since the attacks — foreign policy has never sparked interest, Pevehouse said.

Suri said foreign policy was not a primary topic of concern before Sept. 11.

“In the last election, foreign policy wasn’t even as issue,” he said. “But we need to make it an issue. Ignoring the issues only makes things worse.”

Pevehouse said the United States faces complex decisions involving foreign policy. If the federal government drastically alters current policy, terrorism may be viewed as a means for implementing political change.

“It would be tough for the U.S. now to make a lot of changes,” he said.

However, citizens also play a role in improving the post-Sept. 11 situation, Suri said. American citizens can help their country by staying aware of matters like foreign policy, considering issues from all sides and backing programs that encourage international cooperation.

“It’s something we can all do on a small scale,” he said.

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