A simple question today, against the backdrop of Bush careening down to the low forties in approval: exactly how good are the Bush guys?
On a day when the Pew Center poll shows that Bush's approval rating has fallen to 42%, six more American soldiers died today in Iraq from bombings. The White House believes that Bush needs to do a better job selling why we are in Iraq and what our plans are. You know, just accentuate the positives, like today’s capture of an alleged lieutenant to al-Zarqawi in Mosul. (You remember al-Zarqawi, don’t you? He’s the guy Bush let get away several times in the run up to the war.)
As some GOP senators give signs that they are backing away from hardline support of Bush on Iraq, the Administration apparently feels that it needs to reassure Americans about Iraq, and that the best way for it to do that is to have Bush talk more about Iraq, even though there are no plans to change anything that we are doing there. In other words, more rhetoric without an exit strategy.
Bush, who had hoped to spend this summer focusing on Social Security, is instead being forced to defend his economic record and war policies in the face of growing uneasiness among the public and Republicans in Congress. His poll numbers on his handling of Iraq have dropped to all-time lows, as numerous lawmakers, including some Republicans, have accused him of not offering honest assessments about the strength of the insurgency and the slow pace of training battle-ready Iraqi forces.
"The war has gone on longer and more violently than people envisioned," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. "We always accentuated the positive and never prepared the public for the worst. . . . People are dying in larger numbers than we thought, and the insurgency seems to be growing stronger, not weaker." The result, Graham said, is that Bush "ill-prepared the public for the trial and tribulations" of planting a new democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Graham said the public's sour mood is infecting some GOP senators, especially those facing reelection in 18 months.
Gee, I think those comments will get someone's attention at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, don't you?
So the answer according to Rove is for Bush to sharpen his message on how we're "growing our economy and winning the war."
Can I get some of what they are smoking at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Even as consumer confidence is heading upward, none of the polls are showing that the public credits Bush with anything on the economy.
With Bush’s first term priority and second term priority (Iraq and Social Security, respectively) floundering, the best that Rove can come up with is more rhetoric but no adjustments in the overall failed policies. It’s time for Democrats and the media to notice a well-kept secret about this team: they are really good at campaigning and destroying the opposition, but they are crappy at governing.
Sure, Bush supporters will say that Bush has been effective to date. But remember that on September 10, 2001 Bush’s poll numbers were markedly higher than where they are now. And ask yourself this: without 9/11, the fear campaign behind the war on terror, and his tax giveaways, where would Bush be now? That's right; he'd be back in Crawford.
Yes, he has pushed through a class-action lawsuit limitation bill, a bankruptcy restriction bill, and an estate tax giveaway so far this year, three items that a Democratic House in 2007 will reverse. He has botched Social Security, he is about to botch Bolton, and his party is showing signs that they are already more concerned about their own necks next year than his second-term agenda. And to make it worse, Bush and Rove will fall back on placating their base with more rhetoric on things like Roe v. Wade, at a time when large majorities want Roe left alone, and the Supreme Court’s image has suffered.
These guys aren’t really that good. Whatever success they’ve had has come from:
· A limp, bitch-slapped media;
· The lackluster first-term opposition they faced; and
· A 35-38% bedrock of cultists.
That isn’t a recipe for effective governance when your own party wants you to pivot deftly to save their own skins. And with a more aggressive second-term Democratic leadership in place, I welcome Bush’s attempt at more rhetoric and blame gaming. Because every time he tries it, Democrats should throw it back that “Mr. Excuses” would be nowhere without 9/11.