Bush Blames Polls on 'Battle Fatigue'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 11, 2006; 12:57 PM

President Bush yesterday blamed his dismal job-approval ratings not on anything he's done wrong, but on a nationwide case of "battle fatigue" over the war in Iraq, the standoff with Iran and high gas prices.

Bush said he "understands" why Americans are feeling pessimistic about the future -- but he urged them to be patient and said the growing public disapproval over his policies isn't changing his mind about anything.

"My job is to make decisions based on what I think is right," he told reporters from seven Florida newspapers yesterday during a roundtable interview.

It was the first time Bush has directly responded to questions about his record-low approval ratings -- as low as 31 percent in two recent public-opinion surveys. (See yesterday's column, Where's the Base? ) Bush typically shakes off such questions with the implausible assertion that he doesn't pay any attention to polls.

By refraining from actually scolding the public for its unseemly lack of optimism, Bush may avoid the trap Jimmy Carter fell into in his famous " national malaise " speech in 1979, when he seemed to be blaming the nation for his problems.

Nevertheless, Bush's message to the Americans remains: The fault is not in the White House, but within yourselves -- and, of course, the media.

Bill Adair writes in the St. Petersburg Times: "President Bush often says he doesn't pay attention to polls. But on Wednesday, he showed he was keenly aware of his record-low approval rating.

"Asked about the cause, Bush blamed the constant headlines about violence in Iraq, the dispute with Iran and high gas prices. But he emphasized that the poll ratings would not affect his decisionmaking, especially on the U.S. role in Iraq. . . .

"Later, while discussing how Harry Truman tried to help Japan become a democracy, Bush again mentioned the downbeat mood about his presidency. 'There's concern here in America. There are people wondering whether or not Iraq can self-govern. I understand why they're worried about that because they see every day on their TV screens, death. And they read about militias taking revenge in their own hands, and it appears to be a chaotic scene.'

"He likened Iraq to Europe rebuilding after World War II and said that conditions in Iraq will improve as democracy takes hold."

Jim Stratton writes in the Orlando Sentinel: "President Bush, his approval ratings at a record low, acknowledged Wednesday that war in Iraq and rising gas prices have created 'battle fatigue' among many Americans.

"That anxiety, Bush said, has settled over much of the nation as people worry about whether the U.S. will succeed in Iraq and how they'll afford to fill up their tanks.

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