President Bush's approval rating is 90 percent. No other president since the Gallup poll began six decades ago has ever hit 90 percent.
The man attracting these ratings is the same one who, in the week of the terrorist attacks, graced the cover of Newsweek as "The Accidental President," a reference to a new book about the Supreme Court's role in boosting Bush into the presidency.
Clearly, many of the people who opposed his election are rallying around him now. Had I been polled, I would have thrown my support behind him, too, despite my antipathy toward him in the past.
I believe, as many Americans apparently do, we ought to show the world a united front. We are sending the message that our president's resolve is ours as well. We can fight among ourselves. We can call each other names. But in times of crisis, we're Hoss and Adam and Little Joe. You pick a fight with our president, you pick a fight with all of us.
Yet this united front has a disconcerting side, especially for those of us who tend to think out loud. There are some things we're not supposed to say right now, some questions we're not supposed to raise.
If we suggest we ought to understand why the terrorists hate us so, we're accused of sympathizing with them. Or worse - we're accused of suggesting that their acts were justified.
If we question the wisdom of all-out war, we are weak and naive.
If we look to examine the U.S. role in the Middle East, we are blaming the victim.
I find myself choosing my words and framing my questions carefully in conversation with anyone beyond my closest friends, lest I be misunderstood and thought to be unpatriotic. I have discovered I have less than perfect pitch in these matters, perhaps because for the first time in my life, my country has been so severely wounded by outsiders. I'm afraid I don't have sharp instincts on what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate to say out loud.
For example, I wasn't offended, as many apparently were, by Bill Maher's statements on his "Politically Incorrect" television show last week. He questioned the courage of America's recent high-tech wars and, agreeing with one of his guests, said, "Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
Sears and Federal Express pulled out as sponsors of the show, and a smattering of ABC affiliates, including the station in Washington, D.C., dropped the show indefinitely.
Obviously, they have every right to do what they like, but it seems to me when we can't tolerate unpopular points of view on a show blatantly called "Politically Incorrect," maybe we're beginning to mistake contrariness for disloyalty. So much of how a statement is received has to do with timing. We're grieving right now. We're angry.
We don't want to hear anything negative about our country or our leaders. Therefore, we're reluctant to raise the tough, uncomfortable questions.
Yet if we are going to send our sons and daughters off to war, I would like to understand who we're fighting, what we hope to accomplish and how we plan to accomplish it. I would like to hear as many points of view as I can find.
We want to present ourselves to the world as a united populace. But we should also want to present ourselves as an informed populace, one whose indomitable strength is derived not from blind loyalty to our president but from a true understanding, and belief in, our mission.
Joan Ryan writes a weekly column for the Pilot-Tribune.