By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 24, 2005 1:22 PM
There's an old riddle that goes: What do you get when you give a reporter two facts and a deadline? The answer is: A trend.
Well, folks, by that standard, we've got ourselves a trend.
The Harris Poll is out today, showing President Bush's approval rating down sharply over the past two months to 40 percent. Just two days ago, the American Research Group also found it down sharply, to 36 percent.
In both cases, those are all-time lows for Bush that put him in dangerously unpopular territory. And the results lead inescapably to the conclusion that the American people are deeply unhappy with the war in Iraq and blame the president.
The Wall Street Journal reports: "President Bush's job approval ratings are at their lowest point of his presidency as only 40% of U.S. adults have a favorable opinion of his job performance and 58% have a negative opinion, according to a Harris Interactive poll.
"This is a decline from just two months ago in June when the president's ratings were 45% positive and 55% negative. Much of this decline can be tied to the public's opinion on important issues. The war in Iraq has climbed to the top of the most important issues list and the economy is now viewed as the second most important issue, according to the poll."
This chart shows how the war in Iraq has grown in importance over time.
Harris Interactive adds: "Americans are also less satisfied with the way things are going in the country now as compared to in June. A majority (59%) of adults say things in the country have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track and 37 percent believe things are moving in the right direction. In June, those numbers were 38 percent who said things were moving in the right direction and 55 percent who said things had headed off on the wrong track."
An American Research Group poll released Monday found Bush's overall approval rating down to 36 percent in August, from 42 percent in July.
And more polls will be out soon. I'm told that Gallup, for instance, is in the field now and should have results in the next few days.
The Harris poll was in the field from Aug. 9 to 16. The most recent Gallup Poll, conducted Aug. 5 to 7, had Bush's approval down at 45 percent -- and even more notably, showed that 56 percent of Americans said they want some or all troops withdrawn from Iraq now.
Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll of the Gallup Poll are out today with an analysis comparing Iraq and Vietnam, as far as public opinion is concerned.
"Gallup asked the public to assess whether the United States made a 'mistake' in sending troops into Vietnam, and has asked the same question since March 2003 about Iraq. Gallup consistently asked Americans to name the 'most important problem' facing the country during the years of both conflicts, and to evaluate how the presidents involved were handling both war situations.
"The bottom line: Americans were much quicker to consider the Vietnam War to be a major problem facing the country than has been the case for the Iraq war. But at the same time, a majority of Americans began to call Iraq a 'mistake' within about a year and three months of its beginning, while it took over three years for a majority to call Vietnam a mistake. Lyndon Johnson's job approval ratings for handling Vietnam dropped to lower levels than has been the case -- so far -- for George W. Bush."Live Online
Bush took 10 minutes away from biking and boating at a Utah resort yesterday to step before the microphones. The first question he faced from reporters, not surprisingly, was about war protester and grieving mother Cindy Sheehan.
Here's the text of his remarks.
"I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake," Bush said. "I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East would be -- are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States. So I appreciate her right to protest. I understand her anguish. I met with a lot of families. She doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with. And I'll continue to meet with families."
But as several media reports pointed out this morning, critics of the Iraq war are not advocating an immediate withdrawal from the greater Middle East. And many are not even calling for an immediate pullout from Iraq. Rather, they are asking for a specific plan to bring the troops home, and maybe an acknowledgement of error.
Olivier Knox of Agence France Presse writes: "President George W. Bush painted demonstrators seeking a speedy US withdrawal from Iraq as dangerous isolationists, but one protesting widow said she just wants answers. . . .
"At an anti-war rally in downtown Boise, Melanie House clutched her gurgling eight-month-old son James, his tiny white T-shirt emblazoned with a photograph of a father he will never know, and quietly disputed the president.
" 'My reaction is, why are we there in the first place? I'll always be in support of the troops. I don't feel like what I'm doing, saying, speaking out, weakens anything,' she said with James squirming happily in her arms.
" 'I want the troops home, and I want the president to tell me why my husband had to go to Iraq, and why I had to become a widow at age 26, and why my son will never meet his daddy,' House told reporters."
Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush said Tuesday that war protesters like Cindy Sheehan who want an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq 'are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States,' and that Ms. Sheehan did not represent the views of other military families he had met.
"It was the first time he had expressed any criticism of Ms. Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who has protested at his Texas ranch during his vacation and has inspired antiwar vigils. . . .
"Ms. Sheehan, who has demanded to meet again with Mr. Bush, has not advocated a withdrawal of American forces in the Middle East; troops are stationed in Kuwait and Qatar, as well as Iraq."
Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times that Bush's "more confrontational language Tuesday marked a renewed effort by White House officials to discredit arguments being made by protesters, who are calling on the president to avoid further bloodshed by pulling out of Iraq.
"Bush said Tuesday that 'immediate withdrawal' would be a mistake. He also sought to portray his Iraq critics as critics of the broader effort against terrorism, which remains more popular than the Iraq policy. Bush tried to paint protesters as opponents of engagement in the entire region, even though Sheehan and others have focused their criticisms primarily on Iraq. Bush's remarks appeared to buttress Sheehan critics who have assailed the mother's assertion in at least one interview this month that the invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban after Sept. 11 was wrong."
Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "A political source close to Bush's damage-control advisers complained Sheehan's protest has been 'taken over by professional opponents of the President' but acknowledged that Bush has been wounded politically by her vigil. As a result, he added, Bush had no choice but to ratchet up his rhetoric."
Sam Coates writes in The Washington Post: "Bush's quickly scheduled appearance came against a backdrop of antiwar protests that have sprung up during his three-day visit to Utah and Idaho, two politically Republican states. The president's sojourn from Texas suggested the protests threaten to bracket his appearances in ways that could complicate the White House's ability to argue for the Iraq policy and maintain support for it."Sheehan to Return
Cindy Sheehan writes in Huffingtonpost.com: "I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?"On the Defensive
Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "You knew it was a bad day for the White House when even Fox News was piling on President Bush's counselor, Dan Bartlett."The Challenge
Linda Feldmann writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "President Bush faces a monumental task: He must project hope about prospects for building a stable and democratic Iraq, analysts say, while at the same time appearing connected to reality, as US casualties mount in both Iraq and Afghanistan."Bush on Terror
While Bush often argues that Iraq is a part of the war on terror, his critics charge that Iraq only became a haven for terrorists after the U.S. invasion.
Bush went on a curious riff on this topic yesterday, while answering a question about Iraqi politics in the wake of a draft constitution.
"We had a policy that just said, let the dictator stay there, don't worry about it. And as a result of dictatorship, and as a result of tyranny, resentment, hopelessness began to develop in that part of the world, which became the -- gave the terrorists capacity to recruit. We just cannot tolerate the status quo. We're at war. And so this is a hopeful moment."The Role of Women
Asked about the rights of women under the newly drafted proposed Iraqi constitution, with its deference to Islamic law, Bush replied confidently:
"I talked to Condi, and there is not -- as I understand it, the way the constitution is written is that women have got rights, inherent rights recognized in the constitution, and that the constitution talks about not 'the religion,' but 'a religion.' Twenty-five percent of the assembly is going to be women, which is a -- is embedded in the constitution."
The best I can tell is that Bush was confusing two issues. There's no doubt that Islam is "the" religion recognized by the constitution. Rather, as Fred Kaplan writes in Slate: "Much has been made of the assembly's debate over whether Islam should be declared 'the source' of legislation or merely 'a source.' But look at how it came out: 'a fundamental source' --- which, as professor/blogger Juan Cole notes, amounts to pretty much the same thing as 'the source.' "
Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti write in The Washington Post: "The draft says no law can contradict the principles of Islam and leaves it open for individuals to decide whether inheritance, divorce and marriage would be governed by religious or civil law. Opponents say those provisions threaten women's rights, potentially leaving them subject to the edicts of extremist clerics.
" 'Women, they lost hugely in this constitution,' said National Assembly Chairman Hachim Hasani, a Sunni who represented the demands of women's groups during the constitutional debates.
" 'Women had more rights in the past regime than they had now,' Hasani said."
Dexter Filkins writes in the New York Times: "Some secular Iraqi leaders complained Tuesday that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women. . . .
" 'This is the future of the new Iraqi government - it will be in the hands of the clerics,' said Dr. Raja Kuzai, a secular Shiite member of the Assembly. 'I wanted Iraqi women to be free, to be able to talk freely and to able to move around.'
" 'I am not going to stay here,' said Dr. Kuzai, an obstetrician and women's leader who met President Bush in the White House in November 2003."Vacation Watch
Richard Benedetto writes in USA Today: "Try as he might to get away during the almost five weeks he's scheduled to be out of the White House, mostly at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, President Bush has had his August vacation shadowed by anti-war demonstrators.
"They have set up camp in Crawford. They have followed him to Idaho where he spent some time Tuesday riding his bike over Rocky Mountain trails north of the Idaho capital.
"Not only are they attacking Bush's Iraq policy, they are protesting that his holiday is inappropriate at a time of war."
Brad Hem writes in the Idaho Statesman about Bush's busy day, biking and fishing and dining with the Idaho congressional delegation.
How challenging was the biking? Strenuous, but apparently not over particularly perilous terrain: "There were four other cyclists keeping pace with the president, followed by five forest-green golf carts, each carrying three men in military fatigues down the trail," Hem writes.
Nobody in Bush's fishing party brought back any fish, he notes.
Josh Burek writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "What's the proper work-life balance for a president? Is there a disconnect between American workers' ever-longer hours and the precise but compact schedule of the nation's CEO?"
He notes that "this Sunday, Bush passed Ronald Reagan for most days spent away from the Oval Office.
" 'We're the hardest-working people in the world, and we have a president who seems to not only be working bankers' hours, but taking French bankers' vacation,' says Rick Shenkman, a presidential historian."Hu Coming to Visit
Paul Eckert writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush will host Chinese President Hu Jintao on September 7, a visit that caps months of rising trade friction as well as growing cooperation on stopping North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions. . . .
"The first U.S. visit by Hu, 62, since he became president in 2003 follows a stormy summer in bilateral trade ties as China and America wrangled over energy, textiles, Chinese counterfeiting and China's exchange rate policies."
There's also the Taiwan issue, and the whole matter of a growing U.S.-India alliance to counter China. It should be an interesting visit, at least behind closed doors.Biking Redux
Cox News Service reporter Ken Herman spoke to Daryn Kagan on CNN yesterday about the bike ride he and a handful of other reporters took with the president two weekends ago.
Said Herman: "The president rides his bike like he runs his foreign policy. Once the course is charted, there's no turning back, no second-guessing, no waiting for the less committed. He gets out there and he gets his heart rate pumping and it's a serious activity."
Kagan asked: "Depending on one's political persuasion, people either think that the media is too tough or too easy on President Bush. What about -- is a line crossed as a White House correspondent when you're out there buddy-buddying and doing recreation with the president?"
Herman: "Sure. That's a good question. It is hard and probably foolhardy to turn down access to the president of the United States for almost any purpose. This was a legitimate story about a part of the president's life. I had ridden with him last year and written a story last year about his mountain bike riding and Senator Kerry's road bike riding and what that tells about people about them and the activities they choose.
"And I think most journalists would think any exposure you can get to the president, you're going to learn something about him or her and that's the name of the game, is learning about these people and what makes them tick."Today's Calendar
Bush takes a 45-minute helicopter ride from the Tamarack Resort in Donnelly to Nampa, where he gives another speech on the war on terror today at 1:15 p.m. ET, at the Idaho Center Arena.
He then meets privately with families of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then it's back to Crawford, via Boise and Waco.Et Tu, O'Reilly?
Here's Bill O'Reilly last night on Fox News: "President Bush could go down in history as another Ronald Reagan -- or another Warren Harding. We'll know over the next few months. As you may know, the president's job approval rating is dropping into dangerous territory, the low 40's. If he falls much farther, his power to get things done falls as well. Three things are bedeviling Mr. Bush -- chaos in Iraq, chaos on the southern border, and high gas prices. The president either deals effectively with those issues or risks going down in history as a failure. And that is the no-spin truth."Anyone Seen the White House Deed?
According to the Web site for a new book, "Night of the Realtors," by Vancouver novelist David Jenneson, Jenneson "discovered that the U.S. Government has no deed recording the property ownership for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- perhaps it never existed. . . .
"Armed with this surprising information, and a good amount of legal survey and analysis, the Canadian novelist found himself in a position to offer for sale the only deed in known existence. He has acquired a legal Quitclaim Deed/Covenant for the White House."The Picture You Didn't See in the States
Lefty bloggers having a field day with this (genuine) Associated Press photo published on a Canadian newspaper Web site of a clearly disgruntled member of the audience during Bush's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Monday in Salt Lake City.Late Night Humor
Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show":
"While his Iraq policy is coming under fire from his own party, President Bush was in a field of poppies, going on a two-hour bike ride with seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
"He's bike riding, he's jogging five miles a day, lifting weights. Is he preparing for something we don't know about? Some kind of 'every man for himself' scenario comin' down the pike?"