This first of a promised biennial ""attempt to take the composite temperature and pulse of the American body politic"" offers up via the Gallup organization the scientifically sampled opinions of some 1800 souls on all manner of issues -- social change, race, law and order, medical care, pollution, foreign policy, the economy, defense spending, and so on and back and forth, mostly back, as the results indicate a ""startling shift in priorities in the minds of the American people away from problems abroad to those here at home."" The methodology is sound and the commentary, while somewhat pretentious in spots (must we call the impact of the young a process of ""population peristalsis""?), makes file obvious points in an objective spirit. But what could have been a psephologist's feast is just so much leftover sauerkraut, since this national breath test has been published well after the election -- which pretty much confirmed that the ""dynamism, the sense of progress and perfectibility, have largely gone out of American life."" Shinning up that greasy pole is still a national preoccupation, but the poll that tells the politico the way to go should appear at least a month before the November smear.