Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After 9/11, the Body Politic Tilts to Conservatism ; Terror War Shifts Views of the Nation - Especially the Young

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After 9/11, the Body Politic Tilts to Conservatism ; Terror War Shifts Views of the Nation - Especially the Young

Article excerpt

When Sacramento Bee publisher Janis Heaphy delivered a commencement address at California State University last month, she chose a topic that might be expected to resonate among a young, idealistic student audience: the importance of protecting civil liberties.

Instead, Ms. Heaphy was booed off the stage.

The students' reaction to what they perceived as criticism of the government may just reflect the nearness of the terrorist attacks. But it might also be a sign of what some analysts see as an emerging shift toward a more nationalistic, traditional, and in some ways conservative politics.

Just as Pearl Harbor and Vietnam ushered in new cultural and political eras, Sept. 11 is likely to shape the outlook of the nation - and particularly the generation now coming of age - for years to come.

These emerging views may not exactly correspond with current partisan ideologies. Desire that government "do more" to solve the nation's problems is way up, for example, an approach that doesn't square with conservative politics. But attitudes on a variety of other issues - from support for the military and the use of American force abroad, to approval of President Bush and his administration's actions on civil liberties - seem to indicate a rightward tilt, which could translate into electoral gains for Republicans, and perhaps the start of a new chapter in politics.

"All this can be summed up as a shift in favor of more conservative and traditional politics," says David King, a political scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "The shift is not simply one along a policy dimension, but it's a generational shift."

The new mood has been most striking on college campuses, where conservatives note a falling off of certain liberal attitudes that have held sway there since the 1960s.

Consider this: At Ivy League schools, some of the longest lines at recruiting fairs are not for banks or consulting firms but for the FBI and CIA. A recent poll by Harvard's Institute of Politics found that 75 percent of college students trust the military to "do the right thing" all or most of the time, while 92 percent consider themselves patriotic.

"We're so used to thinking in terms of the '60s generation, that it's just stunning to see college students who like their country," says Shelby Steele, a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California. "It's sort of a reverse split from the '60s. In the '60s, the faculty was conservative and the students were liberal. Now, the students are more pro-American and the faculty is liberal."

A trend already in progress

Some of these shifts in attitude were taking place well before Sept. 11 - so the attacks have merely compounded the trend, analysts say. Support for certain government institutions, such as the military, has been rising for some time.

"It is remarkable in my lifetime to see the CIA go from revered in the '50s, to despised in the '60s, '70s and '80s, to rehabilitated in the '90s - and now we're going back toward domestic surveillance," says Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley. Likewise, he says, there's "absolutely" been a pro-military shift nationwide, "as the link between the military and personal safety became tighter" - though that support could diminish, he cautions, if the link becomes less clear. …

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