CONVERSE, IND. -- It was an odd setting for a discussion of the "new world order," but that is what Rep. Jim Jontz (D-Ind.) wanted to talk about when he came to town over the weekend.
Sixteen of Jontz's constituents gathered to hear him. They sat on folding chairs at three long tables in the Converse City Hall, the entrance to which was decorated with two yellow ribbons as a reminder that the country is at war in the Middle East. One constituent, Donald Brown, an insurance salesman with the beefy looks of a former high school football player, had just finished speaking about his concerns, which included the poor state of health care for the elderly in this country and his anger at suggestions that the United States should help rebuild Iraq when the fighting is over.
That gave Jontz his opening.
In calling for a "new world order," he said, President Bush "is suggesting that we should be doing certain things, assuming certain burdens" around the world. But, the third-term Democrat continued, "for five years people have been telling me we need to do more at home."
"I know that when the president talks about a new world order, it appeals to people because we want to have our country recognized for what it is," Jontz said. "But there are very real trade-offs that are involved in all this. To the extent that we take on some of these burdens, there will be some things at home we can't do. . . . I don't know what the right course is to take, but I sure think we ought to be thinking about it."
Jontz's message, which he is beginning to deliver regularly in his travels through his central Indiana district, struck a responsive chord in this rural community about 70 miles north of Indianapolis. Signs of support for U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf -- the yellow ribbons tied to trees and power-line poles along the two-lane highways and the flags pasted in the windows of white frame farmhouses -- can be seen throughout the district.
But in a day of meeting with constituents in some of the smallest towns of his district, Jontz also heard expressions of lingering skepticism about the reasons for the war; bitterness toward Jordan for its support of Iraq; and resentment of U.S. allies, especially Japan, for not contributing enough to the war effort.
"Forty million dollars to Jordan is a slap in the face of every American," Steve Dooley, an auto worker, told him. As for the Japanese, while they refuse to pay a fair share of the cost of the war, many of the problems facing the United States are "because of all the jobs that have been lost to the Japanese," Dooley said.
"I'm still not sure we should be in this war," said Sherri Thomas, a housewife.
Like most congressional Democrats, Jontz voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. He said at the time that he thought diplomacy and economic sanctions might still work and that he was unwilling "to risk American lives and drain the American treasury if our allies aren't willing to do their share in shouldering the burden." The burden-sharing theme is popular in a district that includes major General Motors and Delco plants and several smaller automobile parts manufacturers, all of which have been hurt by foreign competition.
Now, however, Jontz, like most Democratic critics of Bush's decision to resort to force, has closed ranks behind the war effort. But he also is deliberately trying to push discussion of the war beyond the fighting to the key question of what happens when the shooting stops.
"We like it," he said of the phrase "new world order" as he rode through the countryside to his next stop. "People liked Ronald Reagan's jingoism. They liked the saber rattling. I'm trying to say let's think about the implications of this."
Jontz said Bush's State of the Union message "really focused my attention on this question of trade-offs because of the way he dealt with the domestic issues. It was sort of going through the motions."
Jontz's vision of a post-gulf war era is clearly at odds with the president's. He told the audience here that to resolve its domestic problems the United States may have to accept a situation in which "we will not have as much to say about what happens in different corners of the world."
"We may have to think about our nation a little differently," he said.
The debate over going to war is past, but the debate over what it should lead to is just beginning. "I'm trying to prepare people" for what comes next, Jontz said.