The Politics of Ambivalence

The Politics of Ambivalence

Think of the statistician’s bell curve and you have the shape of public opinion today. At one tail are antiwar partisans for whom the Gulf War is a continuation of Vietnam, while at the other tail is an equally automatic reaction of chauvinistic patriotism. The numbers at both extremes are small; the bulk of opinion is grouped around the mode of ambivalence.

The specter of Vietnam haunts the ambivalent. Among those on the left there is an increasing uncertainty about whether the analogy holds, and, consequently, ambivalence ranges from a growing willingness to consider the case for war to a reluctant assent that incorporates a strong hostility to the Bush administration. On the right, the belief in the Munich metaphor is shaken by memories of Vietnam that undercut initial certainties. In the country at large there is probably a skew toward greater support for the war, but this will probably shift if the war is
prolonged. Americans, in short, support the war but not, perhaps, wholeheartedly.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels