Bush's Amazing Poll Decline
Bill Long 5/12/06
No More Rabbits to Pull out of the Hat
It is not unusual for Presidents to develop second term woes. Ronald Reagan faced the Iran Contra affair, the most serious of his presidency, in his second term. Bill Clinton likewise had his most difficult days in his second term, despite the fact that most of the American public supported him through his impeachment hearings. But there will be no such luck, I believe, for George W. Bush. He has already exhausted all the avenues of good will of the American people, and he no longer has credible spokespeople in his Administration who can take his program to the people and expect a positive hearing. Whereas in earlier crises he was able to send his lieutenants to the various talk shows to bolster his ratings, he no longer has lieutenants who have any credibility.
Vice President Cheney is widely perceived as the mastermind of a failed Iraq strategy, including an attempt to silence critics of the administration. Secretary of State Rice is perceived to be in way over her head and to have gotten the job primarily out of loyalty to Bush rather than any competence in foreign policy. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is so bristlingly arrogant that his explanations of what is going on in Iraq carry no credibility. As for the President, he is mired in the uncertainties swirling around Iraq, and his attempts to bring up other issues to revive his numbers (such as immigration reform) have fallen flat.
President Bush's Basic Problem
The impression is gradually gaining ground that this President is actually a dangerous person, not simply for the terrorists out there but for American citizens in here. He is dangerous because he doesn't have respect for the basic concept of the rule of law. America is finally waking up to this reality even though dissatisfaction might be expressed through other means. But my basic point is that the President has demonstrated repeatedly over the past five years that he thinks he is above the law, that the "inherent powers" of the Presidency allow him to do almost anything he wants and that, in fact, the "legal" justifications for his actions are rather weak post-hoc efforts of hired guns (i.e., his attorney general) to justify what looks at first and second glance like blatant acts to ignore the law. That is, when the President comes out with statements about how collecting tens of millions of telephone records by the National Security Agency was done with scrupulous regard to what is legal, his words sound hollow. They sound hollow because he has never demonstrated, either in word or deed, any understanding of the delicate balance that law envisions among branches of government; any sense of how law functions in American and international life; any sense of how a great power is limited, for its own good, by adherence to law; any sense of how law is actually the basis of the good society. For a person to claim adherence to the law when he has treated it so cavalierly in the past is hypocrisy of the highest order.
But, why get upset? Politicians are hypocrites. They lie. They try to assure the continuation of their dynasties, whether they are with people of the same surname or not, as long as their party keeps in power. But this wasn't supposed to have happened this way. The Republicans control both houses of Congress by comfortable margins. Seven out of nine members of the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican Presidents. They run the government. They are powerful enough to put the kabosh on investigations that could embarrass the White House still further. And yet, the President's numbers continue to decline. He has countless minions to do his bidding and keep his miscues from being magnified, but he continues to plummet. Here are the numbers, with a few comments along the way.
President Bush's Approval Ratings
Let's go year by year of his Presidency. In 2001, even though he was declared victor by a narrow margin over Al Gore, his poll ratings were pretty good. He was on a sort of honeymoon with the electorate. Here are the numbers, according to today's Wall Street Journal.
Feb. to Aug. 2001, from 49-59% approval, no pattern.
Oct. 2001, approval at 88%, due to 9/11.
Nov. 2001 to Dec. 2002, approval gradually declines to 64%. This would be expected, as the almost full support he had after the 9/11 attacks returned to something approximating "normalcy."
Jan. 2003 seems to be a "surd," for only 52% approved, and then the numbers jumped to 70% in Feb. 2003. I think the State of the Union address did it. It was in this address that he perpetuated what we can only call as a lie--that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger. Then, a gradual decline set it until Sept. 2004, when only 45% approved. But since a Presidential campaign was then being waged, he needed an "October surprise," which came in the form of announcing no plans for the draft and rosier scenarios for Iraq than were justified. Poll numbers jumped to 51% in October 2004.
From Nov. 2004 to Nov. 2005 Bush suffered a steady decline in approval, from 50% to 34%. A cynic might conclude that Bush was only interested in getting re-elected and then was reluctant to face the reality of the failure of his policies in every quarter.
Dec. 2005 saw a leap in approval, to 43%. This was the last time he pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He argued that the Iraq elections showed that things were "looking up" in that country. His lieutenants fanned out across the country giving upbeat assessments about the future in Iraq and domestically.
Jan. 2006 to today. Steady decline from 43% now to 29% approval rating, with the largest hit (6%) in the last month. If past trends are any indication, he will try to pull another rabbit out of the hat in the near future, possibly by saying that we are winning the war, or that the Iraqis are on the brink of realizing democratic reforms, or that the American economy is humming along better than ever.
But the steep losses in the stock market in the past two days presage yet more bad news for Bush. And, the revelations of securing phone records of millions of Americans in order to check for possible terrorist "patterns" should and will receive lots of skeptical, and angry, response across the country. His appointment to head the CIA, General Hayden, who might have been behind the phone-number gathering scheme at NSA, will probably backfire on the President. His ship not only appears to be adrift, but it seems like it is taking on water, with few people able to bail him out.
The only question remaining in my mind at this juncture is whether the impeachment effort, mentioned by many, will now gain more steam. I think it will, though it probably will not ultimately be successful. Yet, the President's staff will not be taking too many holidays in the next few weeks. They have to try to save what little is left of his Presidency.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long