January 11, 2006
Comeback Kid ReduxBy Rick Moran
It may be the most underreported story of the new year. Very quietly and without any fanfare from a biased and hostile press, George Bush has emerged from the dog days of summer and early autumn where his approval ratings sat at a Nixonian 34% in some polls to a much healthier 46% in the latest Washington Post—ABC News survey.
What makes this comeback even more remarkable is that it is occurring amidst a relentless barrage of media negativity and partisan bomb throwing where all manner of evil doings are ascribed to the President and his Administration. The thundering denunciations from the left — of the Administration's efforts to intercept al Qaeda communications here in the United States as well as the sonorous editorializing by the mainstream press about an 'imperial' presidency that seeks to undermine civil liberties — seems to have had little or no effect on the American people's attitude toward the way the President is performing his job. If anything, the most recent polls show that, unlike Democrats and their leftist allies in the media, the American people know that the United States is at war and that President Bush is doing what is necessary to both protect the homeland and win the fight against al Qaeda.
While there may be serious privacy questions about the NSA's intercept program, it is unfortunate that any rational debate on the matter is impossible given the current poisoned political climate that holds sway in our nation's capital. As it is, Americans believe by a huge margin — 65% to 32% — that it is more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats even if it intrudes on personal privacy. And on more specific questions, such as whether or not the program is justified, a plurality of 49% to 46% support the Administration's efforts.
In short, it appears that the New York Times outed a top secret program vital to national security for nothing. If they did it because they believe it is the people's 'right' to know, citizens evidently don't agree with them. And if they did it to undermine the Bush Administration, they have failed miserably.
All of this points to a dramatic shift in public opinion since late October when the President's fortunes were at their lowest ebb. For most of 2005, Bush had ceded the playing field to his political opponents on the war, the economy, and a host of domestic issues like social security and tax reform. Inexplicably, the White House allowed the Democrats to define all of those issues by demonizing the President, attacking Bush in a personal way that ate into his credibility and eroded the trust the American people had in the President following the 2004 election.
The Democrats were able to do this because the President was not defending himself effectively. Rather than going out on the hustings and aggressively taking on his opponents, Bush allowed surrogates in Congress and his Administration to talk about policy prescriptions at home and progress in Iraq. In a less incendiary political time, this rational approach to governance would probably have worked. But when your Secretary of State is talking about Iraqi reconstruction while your political opponents are viciously tearing you down and attacking you personally, calling you a liar, a tool of the oil companies, and an uncaring monster, being rational doesn't work.
There are indications that the President's reluctance to engage his political opponents on Iraq was based on his advisors' mistaken belief that keeping Iraq out of the news was the best way to tamp down opposition to the President's policies. After an all—too—brief effort for two weeks last June to defend his policies at several military bases around the country, the President once again went into a shell while Cindy Sheehan and the Democrats took over the dog days of summer and dominated the news much to the Administration's disadvantage.
Then came Katrina and the President's people once again were slow off the mark, not only in recognizing the scope of the catastrophe but in generating a response to the savage personal attacks by the left questioning the President's compassion for his fellow citizens as well as the Administration's competence in dealing with the disaster. The barrage began almost before the winds stopped blowing in New Orleans, and continued unabated as the press breathlessly reported every rumored atrocity and morbidly dwelt on the deteriorating conditions at the Superdome and the Convention Center. The fact that so much of what the media passed along proved to be false or wildly exaggerated didn't help the American people's perception of the President at the time.
In retrospect, the months of September and October may be seen one day as the nadir of the Bush Presidency. Every poll that came out which showed the President's approval rating dropping was trumpeted to the skies by the left. The editorial pages of the nation's newspapers were filled with questions about the President's effectiveness, his 'lame duck' status, and the imminent collapse of his Administration into political irrelevancy.
But the turnaround had already started. The President hit a home run with his choice of John Roberts for Chief Justice. The selection was supported across a broad swath of the American electorate and marked the beginning of the President's rebound. While not immediately apparent, an uptick in Bush's credibility numbers was followed by the vote for the Iraqi Constitution. Once again, massive numbers of Iraqis went to the polls. And despite the desperate downplaying of this seminal event in the American press, the pictures of smiling Iraqis proudly displaying their purple fingers to the world did not go entirely unnoticed by the American people. The President's competence numbers on Iraq, which had been in the low 40's, started to rise in mid—October and have been going up ever since.
The turnaround began in earnest on Veterans Day as Bush finally took off the gloves and started to fight back against his opponents. While being careful not to tar them with the charge of being unpatriotic, the President finally got around to accusing his political opponents of at least being disingenuous about their opposition and hinted at their playing politics while American soldiers were fighting and dying in Iraq.
It worked. And the reason it worked was because the President continued a spirited defense of his war policies over an extended period of time. Now he was dominating the debate about Iraq. It was no longer a question of whether or not the President misled the country into war, the question became what policy alternative, if any, the Democrats could offer. It's hard to say whether the Administration trapped the Democrats into revealing their true feelings about the war, but the Democrats surely stepped into something disagreeable with both feet when they began to push a resolution in the House that advocated what could only be called an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The fact that it was proposed by one of the party's more recognizable 'hawks' in Representative John Murtha, and was backed by their leader Nancy Pelosi, only served to highlight to the American people the total lack of credibility of the Democratic Party on national security issues. And when all but a handful of Democrats helped defeat the resolution, it became clear that the Democrat's critique of the war had little support in the hinterlands. In fact, almost 60% of the American people still support the effort to stay in Iraq until democracy and security are established in that tragic, bloody country.
With momentum going Bush's way, and with hardly a peep from the media, the President's approval ratings have risen dramatically. In contrast to the massive coverage of Bush's poll numbers when they were on the way down, the press has largely ignored this upswing in Presidential popularity, in favor of highlighting the continuing split in the country over whether or not the war is 'worth it.' Even here, the press has failed to note that the number of people who support the President on Iraq is once again at 50% which is just slightly below where his support was in November of 2004.
Make no mistake. There are plenty of pitfalls ahead for the President and the Republican Party. A thousand things could go terribly wrong in Iraq. The corruption scandals could start to resonate with the American people to the party's detriment (although the most recent polls show the American people believing both parties are equally corrupt). The privacy issues involving the NSA intercept program could come to the fore if it is revealed that the Administration is lying about the extent of the operation. And any number of ancillary issues could contribute to another downturn in the President's approval ratings and with them, the fortunes of the Republican Party at the polls this November.
But as it stands now, the President has made a remarkable comeback and, just as importantly, seems to have some momentum going into the new year. This can only bode well for the Bush presidency when he begins to campaign, as Republicans seeks to hold on to both the Congress and the Senate in what is going to be a very close election.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nut House