Is Bush Over?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007; 6:46 AM

Six months after his party lost both houses of Congress, Bill Clinton was reduced to declaring at a news conference that he was still relevant.

The next day, the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed. Clinton regained his footing and cruised to reelection the following year, his relevance never again in doubt -- even after his impeachment.

These days, many in the media seem to be writing off President Bush.

"The American people basically fired George Bush in the last election," writes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. "We're now just watching him clean out his desk."

"A lot of Americans consider this presidency over," says CNN's Bill Schneider.

"If America were a parliamentary democracy, we would have a no-confidence vote and a new prime minister by spring," writes New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin.

Are these and other pundits giving us the unvarnished truth, that we are witnessing the historic collapse of a presidency? Or is this the triumph of quick-draw, poll-driven journalism?

"It's a predictable bit of conventional wisdom," White House spokesman Tony Snow says in an interview. He insists that Bush can make progress on such issues as energy and immigration, "and he still has the bully pulpit. A lot of these narratives about 'the president is a lame duck' assume nothing is going to change politically, anywhere in the world, in the next two years."

But the gibes keep on coming. "If we had a straight dictatorship," writes the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, "Bush would long ago have been dragged out of the White House either by an angry mob or by disgruntled generals." (Not that he's in favor of either.)

Chait agrees in an interview that the president still has power, but notes: "Psychologically, it does feel that people are starting to move past Bush. No one has changed his mind about Bush in the last two years. It's kind of boring to write about him anymore because he's so unchanging."

Fred Barnes, the Weekly Standard's executive editor, says Bush will concentrate on such areas as tightening control of regulatory policy to end-run a Democratic Congress. "The Republicans learned in the '90s -- and the press should have learned as well -- that presidents have great inherent powers," he says. But "Nancy Pelosi at the moment is a more interesting story than George Bush. She's new, she's attractive and she has an agenda."

The media, as always, are mesmerized by polls. When Bush was riding high in the "Mission Accomplished" days of 2003, some of the coverage was almost giddy. If Bush's current approval ratings were at 50 percent, his media portrayal would look very different. With the president having sunk as low as 28 percent in a CBS News survey, it is all too easy to dismiss him, even as he mounts an escalation of the war in Iraq.

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