The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
DIFFERENT MEN IN DIFFERENT SECTIONS

"We know no North nor South, East nor West." --THEODORE ROOSEVELT, 1896


1

THE UNITED STATES is a nation of sections, sprawling from Maine to Miami, from the Golden Gate to Hell Gate. The crowds on Hollywood Boulevard in California, on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, on Fifth Avenue in New York, and on Beacon Street in Boston may have diametrically different points of view on the same national questions. This is one of the prices we pay for spreading over a huge area: the orange growers of California have little in common with the fishermen of Maine.

In 1938 a Gallup poll found that the most interesting news stories of the year were: (1) the Czech-Munich crisis, (2) the Nazi persecutions of the Jews, (3) Republican gains in the recent Congressional elections, (4) Corrigan's wrong-way flight to Ireland, (5) the wages and hours bill, (6) the great New England hurricane. The sectional breakdown is most revealing:

New EnglandSouth Middle WestWest
1. Hurricane Munich Munich Munich
2. Munich Nazi persecutionsRepublican gains Nazi persecutions
3. Republican
gains
Wages and hours
bill
Nazi persecutionsSino-Japanese
War

One is immediately struck with the purely local interest in the New England hurricane; with the jubilation of the Republican sections over their recent gains at the polls; with the concern of the South (then in the throes of industrialization) over the wages and hours bill; and with the anxiety of the West regarding the Sino-Japanese war, which did not even appear among the first six events in the national reckoning.

This poll accentuates a profound truth. The more sections there are, and the more diversified their interests, the more difficult it is for the national government to settle upon a policy which will command the support of the entire country. This is true of foreign affairs, but it is even more true of domestic affairs, which often shade into foreign affairs. All too often a foreign policy is a patchwork compromise among the clashing views of the sections, and the result, frequently arrived at after prolonged and even dangerous indecision, is not completely satisfactory to the sections, to the national government, or to the foreign nation involved.

Sectionalism and partisanship are so closely interwoven that they often cannot be disentangled. The Solid South may be relied upon to lend power-

-102-

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