For almost two years, I have written a national column. At first, the piece was strictly my opinions. As a friend once said, it was "just another column from a middle-aged white guy." She was right, but of course, the "middle-aged" part hurt the most. The columns would attract a few e-mails or letters each week from readers, but clearly, my weekly writing was just another in a sea of national columns. Reality is tough.
When the column became "Inside the Numbers" -- a revelation and analysis of exclusive weekly polls on all sorts of topics -- I was taken aback at the reaction. The first few columns under the new format were too heavily focused on polling results. But after a trusted editorial page editor said, "Add your opinion," I was suddenly faced with a truly enjoyable situation -- endless letters and e-mails from readers across the United States. Some agree; some are downright nasty in their disagreements. Either way, I love the feedback.
So this week, I'm taking a moment to respond to a sample of reader reactions. Please take my responses with a dose of good humor, as I do all of your letters, no matter how serious:
On the poll revealing that Americans greatly preferred George W. Bush to names like Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or Al Gore as the leader of any possible war in Iraq:
A reader in Barstow, Calif., writes: "Given the choices in your poll, aren't you kinda stacking the deck?"
Dear Barstow: Yes, I forgot to add Gerald Ford. Thanks for reminding me.
A reader from Grand Rapids, Mich., responded to my point that Al Gore had supported the 1991 Gulf War: "What closet are you living in? Gore supported the Gulf War only after he obtained an agreement from Senator Simpson (Alan K. Simpson, then Republican senator from Wyoming) that he could speak on the Senate floor for an hour. The (expletive deleted) sold his soul for an hour of politics."
Dear Grand Rapids: You are probably right, but look where it got him. Few if any in our survey said they wanted Gore as their leader in this war. Still, I try to be fair and thought his vote should be noted.
And if you thought trying to be fair to Gore got me into trouble, just look at the reaction to my suggestion that former President Jimmy Carter -- who scored miserably in our poll of "Who would you want to lead the war" -- nonetheless should have received the Nobel Prize in the 1970s for brokering the Camp David Accords:
A reader in Stewart, Texas: "I enjoyed your article right up to the point I threw up when you advocated President Carter get the Nobel Peace Prize. I 'hurled.'"
Dear Stewart: I didn't advocate that he receive the prize this year. I was just trying to say that it was unfair to award Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat for their roles in the Camp David Accords, while leaving Carter out. Warning: Effects of this column can apparently induce spontaneous illness!
And from Kimberling City, Mo.: "Bush should get the Peace Award, but probably will not. We do not live in a world of realists."
My answer: You are absolutely right. Bush does deserve it, and those who determine the Peace Prize are certainly not realists.
Another recent survey showed President Bush with very strong public approval ratings for his handling of the war but less favorable ratings for his economic program. Overall, the poll found Bush enjoyed a wide lead against all potential presidential opponents in 2004. Responses to this were all over the board.
A reader in Augusta, Ga., writes: "So far, your Bush propaganda about weapons of mass destruction is only a pipe dream."
Dear Augusta: It seems they found a whole bunch of those "pipes" in Iraq last week ... they're called undestroyed missiles. And we're learning more every day.
In recent columns on the economy, I threw two curve balls -- blaming Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan for the economic mess and suggesting that it wasn't so "un-Republican" to re-regulate a few industries that have totally failed under deregulation.
A Beaver Dam, Ariz., reader: "I totally agree with your assessment that Alan Greenspan bears primary responsibility for the economic morass ... however ... (I would blame him for) when he correctly warned of irrational exuberance, then did nothing about it."
Dear Beaver Dam: Oh, yes, he did do something. He raised interest rates through the roof and destroyed business confidence.
From Wilmette, Ill.: "Re-regulate? Are you nuts?"
Dear Wilmette: Yes, that's why I throw out such ideas -- to stimulate great debate. And by the way, a few conservatives wrote that they agreed life was better when their phone company or airline couldn't hold them hostage or ignore their complaints.
Finally, a reader in Massapequa, N.Y., writes: "Keep up the good work. God bless you."
Dear Massapequa: I have no relatives in your area, so I assume your kind sentiments are sincerely based on the column's merits. Thanks so much!
And thanks to all who follow "Inside the Numbers."