An old, familiar sentiment is rising again in the Midwest this chilly winter: isolationism.
Joan Moon, who runs the H&R Block income tax office at the Northwoods Shopping Center, is --like most other people here--a Ronald Reagan supporter. Though she's worried about rising unemployment, she is willing to give his economic policy more time to work out.
But when she was asked a generalized question about the president's handling of foreign affairs, she said her president is being "too hard-nosed on this deal with Russia and Poland. I'd rather we just stayed out of there."
Like almost everyone else in town, she will tell you that Reagan's trade sanctions against the Soviet Union caused the cancellation of an $80 million deal with Caterpillar, the area's largest employer, to sell 200 pipelayers for Russia's east- west gas pipeline.
And, like everyone else, she adds in the next breath that the jobs and profits that would have come into the Peoria area will go, instead, to Caterpillar's biggest competitor, Komatsu of Japan.
But it is more than the economic loss. There's the fear that economic sanctions could lead to military intervention or, at least, to an American responsibility for what happens to Poland. "I'll bet a lot of Polish refugees end up coming here," Mrs. Moon said, "taking jobs that we need for our own people."
She is not alone. Among the shoppers here last Saturday, most of them past and present Reagan supporters, the biggest complaint was not the poky economy but the president's readiness to stick his neck out for Poland--especially, as Anna Bahr, an office worker at a farm-implement company said, since "our so-called allies are never willing to go along with us.
"I don't know why we should take responsibility for Poland," she said, "when we can't handle the problems in our own country. That's none of our darn business. We cannot police the whole world."
That attitude is stronger among women than men, and particularly noticeable coming from Republicans. But it is expressed in all quarters. Jim O'Connor, the 31-year-old president of United Auto Workers Local 974, a hard-rock Democrat, said, "My dad was a Navy man, and I'm one who thinks we owe allegiance to the commander in chief. I got no sympathy for the Russians putting down Solidarity. But I tell you, Reagan better be answering why the Germans and the Japanese never want to follow our lead. And if they're playing that game, he better tell us why we should allow them to sell anything in this country. Anything."
Peoria is less prone to economic or political isolationism than other Midwest cities, because Caterpillar is an international trade giant, and its management's thinking pervades the local consciousness.
Nonetheless, the lead editorial in last Sunday's Peoria Journal-Star said:
"We freely confess that we also are sick and tired of European nations taking for granted a whole range of things, in which we are supposed to eat disadvantages while they complain about our policies and go their own way.
"It might be better if we all went our own ways for a while. Let them quit taking us for granted-- even as they kick us in the shins.
"Why not bring our military forces back from healthy, well-developed foreign states and spend that money here at home? Let them take some initiatives for a change and give us the option of telling them to stick it in their ear--instead of vice versa."
All this has an impact on Peoria's congressman, who happens to be the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Bob Michel.
Michel has had a rough time in local meetings, trying as a Reagan loyalist to justify the sanctions that cut off the Caterpillar deal. But he said last weekend that, "Unless the administration can get the so-called allies to work with us, we're really just cutting off our nose to spite our face.
"And all those troops we've got in Europe 35 years after the war," Michel continued, "we don't have to have them there. If they don't think any stronger about this (Polish) deal than they seem to--well, you hate to think of going back to Fortress America again--but we can't let these countries think we're so used to having our troops there, it's just so much a matter of habit with us, that they can take us for granted.
"I'd like to see us raise that question with them --have Haig or Weinberger raise it with the Germans and with the Japanese, about our troops in Europe and Korea."
If anybody in the Reagan administration, in Bonn or Paris or Tokyo is in doubt about the dangerous direction American opinion is heading --let them listen to the voices from Peoria.