Tuesday, May 16, 2006

They Love Him, They Love Him ... Not!

[[S T A N D I N G S]] * Who is Karl Rove hoping to fool this time? During a question-and-answer period yesterday, following his address at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, the deputy White House chief of staff and presidential political adviser insisted that George W. Bush’s approval ratings are only being dragged into the basement now because of public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, which has already cost taxpayers nearly $300 billion so far and led to the deaths of more than 2,400 U.S. soldiers. By way of dismissing Bush’s dismal job-approval statistics--which have him at a new record low of 29 percent in the latest Harris Interactive Poll--Rove reminded listeners that the prez’s likeability ratings have traditionally been higher than his approval figures. He added, “The American people like this president ... they respect him, he’s somebody they feel a connection with, but they’re just sour right now on the war.”

Huh? “People like this president”? Making that statement, Rove sounds as out of touch as MSNBC-TV Hardball pundit Chris Matthews did back in November, when he contended that “Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left--I mean--like him personally.”

Now, it’s true that Bush’s likeability ratings remained high during his first years in office, fluctuating within the 60 percent-to-70 percent range. And Rove insists that a private poll done for the Republican National Committee shows those personal approval ratings remaining above 60 percent, even today (though the RNC won’t release a copy of its survey). Salon’s Walter Shapiro, too, pointed out recently that Bush’s likeability ratings have often exceeded those President Bill Clinton was able to achieve during his eight years in the Oval Office. However, as Bush’s job approval ratings on everything from handling the economy and managing foreign policy, to dealing with immigration and gas prices have taken a deep dive into the toilet, Americans have turned on the prez personally, as well. A report by Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder Newspapers explains that half a dozen national polls conducted in recent weeks demonstrate just how seriously Bush’s personal approval has fallen off:
- A recent Gallup poll for USA Today showed that 39 percent had a favorable opinion of Bush, while 60 percent had an unfavorable opinion. In mid-November 2004, 60 percent had a favorable opinion and 39 percent unfavorable.

- Pollster John Zogby found 42 percent with a favorable opinion and 55 percent unfavorable. In November 2004, it was 58 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable.

- A poll for CBS and the
New York Times showed that 29 percent had a favorable opinion of Bush, while 55 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Likeability can mean all the difference in getting a candidate elected--just ask Al Gore. It can also help a chief executive govern, even in the face of public ambivalence about his specific policies. But likeability isn’t enough for a president, and Rove views voters as idiots if he thinks they’ll believe that it is. Despite Clinton’s often low likeability stats, which indicated some justified dissatisfaction with his personal behavior, Americans trusted his leadership, both on domestic and international issues. As Shapiro writes, “Never once in his entire second term did Clinton’s job-approval rating dip below 50 percent, and for much of the time that number was hovering above 60 percent.” The last time Bush enjoyed job-approval ratings of 60 percent or higher was back in January 2004, immediately after he’d won a second term, beating Democrat John Kerry by a paltry 2 percent. And unless there’s another horrific terrorist attack on the United States, or Bush pilots Air Force One down to the Mexican border and starts wrestling illegal aliens to the ground (sure to win him some favor among more rabid right-wing Republicans), he’s unlikely to see 60 percent approval for the rest of his time in D.C.

Yes, even after his multiple scandals, his Hurricane Katrina bungling, his warrantless domestic spying, and his demonstrated incompetence when it comes to the economy and the Iraq conflict, many Americans probably still think Bush would be fun to sit down and have a beer with, or join in a vigorous game of T-ball. But likeability isn’t sufficient in a national leader. I like my dentist. I like the Starbucks baristas who keep me filled with caffeine during each working day. I like my cat’s vet. I like most of the editors with whom I work on a regular basis. I like the other members of my weekly writers’ group. I like the postman who brings me free books. Most of the time, I like my only brother. But would I want any of those folks to be president? Hell, no! Just because I like and respect them doesn’t mean I’d ever want them within reach of the reigns of power in the United States. Likeability isn’t any more adequate as a paramount qualification for Bush, no matter what the repugnant Rove may say.

(Author's note: This post has been updated since it's original appearance.)

THE END OF THE LINE: Hawkish New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was an early supporter of the prez’s invasion of Iraq, but has since found his faith in the “The Decider” to have been poorly founded. Still, over the last few years, he’s largely balanced his criticism of Bush with his hopes that the administration can turn itself, and its repeated failures, around. So when Friedman finally concedes that there’s no hope for the Republican White House, you have to take it seriously. As he writes in his latest column:
President Bush has slipped in one recent poll to a 29 percent approval rating. Frankly, I can’t believe that. Those polls can’t possibly be accurate. I mean, really, ask yourself: How could there still be 29 percent of the people who approve of this presidency?

Personally, I think the president can reshuffle his cabinet all he wants, but his poll ratings are not going to substantially recover--ever. Americans are slow to judgment about a president, very slow. And in times of war, in particular, they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think a lot of Americans in recent months have simply lost confidence in this administration’s competence and honesty.

What has eaten away most at the support for this administration, I believe, has been the fact that time and time again, it has put politics and ideology ahead of the interests of the United States, and I think a lot of people are just sick of it. I know I sure am.
Read the whole column here.

WHERE WILL THIS SLIDE STOP?: Yet more bad news to keep Republicans up at night. A fresh Washington Post/ABC News poll places Bush’s job-approval rating at just 33 percent, “down five percentage points in barely a month and a new low in Post-ABC polls.” The newspaper adds:
[Bush’s] current standing with the public is identical to his father’s worst showing in the Post-ABC poll before he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992. Bush’s father fell below 30 percent in some other independent polls in 1992.

The president’s current decline has been particularly steep among Republicans, who until last month had generally remained loyal while independents and Democrats grew increasingly critical. According to the survey, Bush’s disapproval rating among Republicans has nearly doubled, from 16 percent to 30 percent, in the past month while his approval rating dipped below 70 percent for the first time. Nearly nine in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 independents currently do not like the job Bush is doing as president.
And Dubya thinks this is the right time to start promoting his younger brother Jeb for dynastic succession? Oh, yeah, that’ll go over really well with voters ...

READ MORE:The Incredible Shrinking President,” by Kevin Phillips (The Huffington Post); “Karl and George’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure,” by Walter Shapiro (Salon); “Rove vs. Reality,” by E.J. Dionne (The Washington Post); “Asking Rove One Question,” by David Corn (The Nation); “Sad Hacks,” by Bruce Reed (Slate).

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