[[P O L I T I C S]] * Just the other day, a poster to the Republican blog RedState.org was lamenting what he felt was his obligation to defend the Iraq war, when George W. Bush himself seemed unable or unwilling to assume that responsibility. “I’ve taken this task a bit reluctantly at times and at others with gusto,” he wrote, “but have always felt a bit awkward, regardless of my personal enthusiasm, at the prospect of having to defend the President of the United States time-and-again on the war over the last two years. I’ve done so mostly because I believe in the cause, in part because I’m a Bush loyalist, but also in no small part because I understand the costs of failure in this venture. Yet, that apprehension has always been there. ... Finally, it dawned on me this morning--why am I defending the President when he does not seem interested in doing it himself?”
Perhaps this poster finds some solace in Bush’s speech today before a generally sympathetic Veteran of Foreign Wars convention in Salt Lake City, Utah--the first of two he’s scheduled to deliver this week in hopes of boosting public support for the Iraq conflict. “The generation of men and women who defend our freedom today is taking its rightful place among the heroes of our nation’s history,” the prez declared, equating the increasingly bloody Iraq war with World Wars I and II. “Once again, America has found patriots who are selfless and tireless and unrelenting in the face of danger.” Of course, this address consisted primarily of barely warmed-over platitudes about fighting terrorists abroad “before they can attack us here at home” and how “Iraq is a central front in the war on terror.” Bush brought up the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks no fewer than five times during his half-hour oration (all the better to refresh fear in the hearts of American voters), though as usual he failed to mention that no Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers, or that the war there has almost certainly boosted Al Qaeda recruitment and made the world a more dangerous place overall. And his statement about how “Iraqis continue to take control of their own future” was undercut by the Iraqi Parliament’s decision today to once more postpone a vote on a draft constitution.
Outside of the hall where he spoke, though, Bush’s relentlessly upbeat messages seemed to fall on deaf ears. Thousands of protestors with signs gathered several blocks away, reminding passersby and the gathered media of the cost--both in lives and treasure--of Bush’s bellicosity. And a new American Research Group poll released today shows that the public is souring on the prez for reasons even beyond the Iraq war. Only 36 percent of respondents said they approve of the way Bush has been handling his job as president, while 58 percent disapproved. Grading Bush’s handling of the U.S. economy, 33 percent approved, while 62 percent disapproved. As American Research notes, “This is the second month in a row when improving economic ratings have not been matched by higher job approval ratings for Bush.” Think Progress, a liberal think tank, was quick to point out that even Richard M. Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal in the summer of 1973, enjoyed higher approval ratings (39 percent) than Bush does now.
The question remains: How low will Bush’s ratings go? And what affect will his reduced standing with the voting public have on his ability to command loyalty from other Republican honchos in Washington, D.C.--especially those hoping to take their own shots at the presidency in 2008?
ADDENDUM: Even former Bush speechwriter David Frum agrees that the prez is failing to make the public case that continuing U.S. involvement in Iraq is worthwhile. As Frum opines at the National Review Online Web site: “Again and again during the Bush presidency--and yesterday [in Salt Lake City] most recently--the president will agree to give what is advertised in advance as a major speech. An important venue will be chosen. A crowd of thousands will be gathered. The networks will all be invited. And after these elaborate preparations, the president says ... nothing that he has not said a hundred times before. If a president continues to do that, he is himself teaching the public and the media to ignore him--especially when the words seem (as his speech yesterday to the VFW seemed) utterly to ignore the past three months of real-world events.”
READ MORE: “Bush’s War of Words,” by Michael Scherer (Salon); “Iraq: The Unseen War,” by Gary Kamiya (Salon); “What Is President Getting Out of War? ” by Maureen Dowd (The New York Times); “What Would It Take?” by Chuck Gutenson (The Huffington Post); “GOP Political Scandals Abound” (AP).