washingtonpost.com
The Most Disappointing President

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 12:44 PM

No president in recent history has let the American people down the way this president has.

In the past six and a half years, the public's view of President Bush has gone from one extreme to another. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a record-breaking 90 percent of Americans approved of the job Bush was doing, according to the Gallup Poll. Now, Gallup reports that a record-breaking 69 percent of Americans disapprove of his work in office. The same number call his presidency a failure.

Pundits focused so intently on the race to replace him risk losing sight of just how unhappy the American people are with Bush, how dismally they regard his tenure, and how eager they are to set off in a new direction.

But Bush's decline and fall may be the dominant political story of our time -- and one that will certainly be on the minds of the American people as they head to the polls in November.

By the Numbers

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush has set a record he'd presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

"In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president. . . .

"The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War. . . .

"In another record, the percentage of Americans who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reached a new high, 63%, in the latest poll. . . .

"By 69%-27%, those polled say Bush's tenure in general has been a failure, not a success."

Here's a chart showing approval and disapproval through the Bush years.

It's just the latest evidence of a spectacular crash. Back in November, Page reported that for the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50 percent of Americans said they "strongly disapproved" of the president. That shattered the previous high of 48 percent reached by Richard Nixon just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.

In my Jan. 15 column, I wrote about two polls showing that Americans by an overwhelming 4-1 ratio want the next president to set the nation in a new direction.

And last week, in my April 15 column, I wrote about a Washington Post/ABC News poll that found Bush had surpassed Harry Truman's record as the president to linger longest without majority public approval. Bush's job-approval rating has been under 50 percent since January 2005 -- three years and three months and counting.

Don't Count Him Out Yet

Presidential confidante Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard about his "pet peeve": When people call Bush a lame duck.

"[H]e's not that lame. . . . Bush lacks popularity, but he has plenty of power. And he's committed to using it.

"Bush's power--indeed, any president's--comes from the Constitution, not from opinion polls or the number of months left in his White House tenure. He is commander in chief and architect of America's foreign policy. He can use his veto to shape or kill legislation. He can exploit the presidential megaphone to express his views and raise alarms, and his power to issue administrative decrees is significant as well. . . .

"For months now, the buzz in Washington has been about Bush's ability to go about his presidential business and remain upbeat and determined. The suspicion is he's simply pretending, since his power is gone. Wrong on both counts."

Torture Watch

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post about Adel al-Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman captured in Afghanistan in 2002, who says he was drugged before his interrogations in U.S. custody.

"At least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.

"The Defense Department and the CIA, the two agencies responsible for detaining terrorism suspects, both deny using drugs as an enhancement for interrogations, and suggest that the stories from Nusairi and others like him are either fabrications or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.

"Yet the allegations have resurfaced because of the release this month of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees.

"Written to provide legal justification for interrogation practices, the memo by then-Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo rejected a decades-old U.S. ban on the use of 'mind-altering substances' on prisoners. Instead, he argued that drugs could be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or 'profound' psychological damage. U.S. law 'does not preclude any and all use of drugs,' Yoo wrote in the memo. He declined to comment for this article.

"The memo has prompted new calls for the Bush administration to give a full accounting of its treatment of detainees, and to make public detailed prison medical records. Legal experts and human rights groups say that forced drugging of detainees for any nontherapeutic reasons would be a particularly grave breach of international treaties banning torture."

Iraq Watch

Remember those long-term security agreements the White House is trying to negotiate with Iraq? And how Congress thinks it ought to have some say in them? Well, it turns out the Iraqis are raising some concerns of their own.

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "Iraq is resisting U.S. proposals for a pair of new bilateral security agreements, saying it expects Washington to compromise on 'sensitive issues,' including the right to imprison Iraqi citizens unilaterally, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Monday.

"Other problematic areas now being negotiated, Zebari said in an interview, are provisions in U.S. drafts to give American contractors immunity from Iraqi law and allow the United States to conduct military operations without Iraqi government coordination. 'These are the main ones, but there could be others,' he said, among them 'issues of sites, of locations, of access' by U.S. troops.

"The Iraqi people 'expect to see a change in the relationship on internment, and on some sovereignty issues,' Zebari said. About 23,000 Iraqis are currently held in U.S. military prisons there."

DeYoung explains: "The United States and Iraq are negotiating a status of forces agreement and a separate 'strategic framework' to replace the existing U.N. mandate governing the U.S. troop presence. The mandate expires at the end of this year. A growing and bipartisan number of U.S. lawmakers have demanded that the Bush administration submit the agreements for congressional approval.

"Democrats have charged that the Bush administration is attempting to tie the next administration to its military policy in Iraq. Republicans fear that President Bush's refusal to seek congressional ratification will compound public dissatisfaction with the war and become a negative campaign issue.

"The White House has said that Bush can use his executive authority to sign the agreements and that they do not require congressional approval. He has pledged they will not include authorization for specific U.S. troop numbers or 'permanent' military bases."

Bush's Army

Ann Scott Tyson writes in The Washington Post: "The Army admitted about one-fourth more recruits last year with a record of legal problems ranging from felony convictions and serious misdemeanors to drug crimes and traffic offenses, as pressure to increase the size of U.S. ground forces led the military to grant more waivers for criminal conduct, according to new data released yesterday.

"Such 'conduct waivers' for Army recruits rose from 8,129 in fiscal 2006 to 10,258 in fiscal 2007. For Marine Corps recruits, they increased from 16,969 to 17,413.

"In particular, the Army accepted more than double the number of applicants with convictions for felony crimes such as burglary, grand larceny and aggravated assault, rising from 249 to 511, while the corresponding number for the Marines increased by two-thirds, from 208 to 350."

Lizette Alvarez writes in the New York Times that military analysts "say these are exactly the kinds of recruits who would never have been allowed into the Army before the war in Iraq. To reach its recruiting targets, the Army has had to soften many of its requirements. It now allows in more recruits who did not graduate from high school and who received lower test scores in their service entry exams. Recruits are older and less physically fit. And there are more people in the service with medical conditions that would have otherwise disqualified their enlistment.

"'With the Iraq war being as controversial as it is and absent any higher level call to service, it's a very difficult challenge to all the services, particularly the Army,' said Michele Flournoy, the president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist research organization that focuses on national security and military policies."

Cheney Watch

Here's the transcript of Cheney's largely warmed-over speech to the Manhattan Institute yesterday. He charged Democrats with trying to "force the mission into failure" in Iraq. He spun Iraqi Prime Minister's abortive Basra offensive as "exactly the kind of initiative we seek from Iraq's leaders." He insisted the surge has "accelerated" legislative accomplishments there. And he predicted that if American troops left Iraq, the majority-Shiite country would be taken over by al-Qaeda loving Sunnis.

H.D.S. Greenway writes in his Boston Globe opinion column: "Cheney gets near top billing in the national catastrophe that he and George W. Bush have wrought. It was Cheney who said, 'I really believe we will be greeted as liberators (in Iraq).' It was Cheney who formed his own parallel national security apparatus to cherry-pick intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. And it was Cheney who pushed the bogus connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

"Ultimately, of course, the blame lies with Bush, essentially a weak president hiding behind his bluster, who came to office too willing to delegate too much responsibility, and chose to make Cheney the most influential and powerful vice president in history.

"The Cheney influence has been hard to miss. Whether it was sticking to the most impractical hard line on foreign policy, or advocating torture, or curbing civil liberties, Cheney's fingerprints were always there."

Visitor Logs Watch

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "A federal appeals court sought compromise Monday between a liberal group demanding the names of White House visitors and the Bush administration, which says releasing the names would erode the president's power. . . .

"On appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, government attorneys said the president has a well-established right to seek advice privately.

"Releasing lists of visitors would trample on that right, said Justice Department lawyer Jonathan F. Cohn, and the logs should be treated like other White House documents.

"The judges were skeptical. They said they wanted to find a way to protect the president's rights without broadly prohibiting access to information that should be public.

"'What in the documents are so quintessentially presidential?' asked Judge David S. Tatel.

"'The name of the person going in to visit,' Cohn replied.

"'That's a public building,' Tatel said. 'You can stand out on 17th Street and watch who goes in and out.'

"'The Secret Service might have some qualms with that,' Cohn responded.

"'They might have some qualms but they couldn't stop you from doing it,' said Chief Judge David B. Sentelle.

"Rather than balancing the president's interest with the public's, Tatel said, the government was simply disregarding the Freedom of Information Act. He said the policy would allow the president to 'draw a curtain around the White House.'...

"The judges seemed equally dissatisfied with the argument of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group seeking the documents. Sentelle and Tatel said the group was using the Secret Service as an end-run, a way to get documents that normally would not be public."

The Three Amigos and NAFTA

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "For a summit of three countries doing nearly $1 trillion worth of business with each other every year, President Bush's two-day meeting with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts began Monday as a decidedly low-voltage affair."

Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post: "With the North American Free Trade Agreement taking a pounding on the campaign trail, President Bush gathered here Monday with the leaders of Mexico and Canada to defend the pact and to seek new ways to cooperate on border, economic and regulatory issues. . . .

"White House aides have also defended the trade pact in recent days. 'We want to find ways to, frankly, convince the American people . . . that this is an arrangement that's worked for us, and it's also worked for our neighbors,' said Dan Fisk, the top White House staffer on Latin America, before the summit. 'There's nothing broken. Why fix a success?'"

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush and his counterparts from Mexico and Canada used an annual summit to promote the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement amid warnings from business leaders that public perceptions and isolationist rhetoric threaten the pact's long-term health.

"'I'm a strong advocate for free trade,' Mr. Bush said to reporters after a Monday meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 'And this summit comes at an opportune time to reaffirm the benefits of the trading arrangements between our three nations.' U.S. business leaders distributed statistics showing that trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has more than tripled since Nafta went into effect. . . .

"But in a draft of a report to the summit, business leaders from the three countries urged the public and private sectors to do a better job of explaining those benefits for North America."

And here's the obligatory video, from CNN, of Bush dancing to New Orleans jazz yesterday.

Global Warming Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "White House aides had billed President Bush's Rose Garden speech last week as a major turning point at which the president would unveil an ambitious set of proposals to address the problem of global warming -- a late-breaking act of atonement, as it were, for seven years of doing nothing.

"Sadly, Mr. Bush's ideas amounted to the same old stuff, gussied up to look new. Instead of trying to make up for years of denial and neglect, his speech seemed cynically designed to prevent others from showing the leadership he refuses to provide -- to derail Congress from imposing a price on emissions of carbon dioxide and the states from regulating emissions on their own."

Rove v. Abrams

MSBNC's Dan Abrams is the only network anchor who's devoted substantial time to the case of Don Siegelman, the former Alabama governor who is appealing a corruption conviction with intense political overtones. A key aspect Abrams keeps mentioning: Karl Rove's possible involvement.

Last week, Rove wrote Abrams a letter complaining about his coverage.

It was classic Rove, raising lots of questions (59 by my count) intended to muddy the debate, while making nary a definitive declaration about his own conduct.

For instance, Rove asked Abrams: "Does it bother you that your coverage asserts, as Governor Siegelman summarized it in his April 7th appearance on your program, that he is the victim of a vast conspiracy involving two U.S. Attorneys, the Alabama Attorney General, unnamed career officials in the Public Integrity Unit at the U.S. Justice Department, unnamed higher-ups in the Justice Department and, oh yes, Karl Rove and that there is not a single piece of paper, not a single email, not a single conversation, not a single disgruntled career employee who's came forward, not one credible witness to the workings of the conspiracy?"

The closest Rove came to an actual denial, however, was this carefully phrased declaration: "I certainly didn't meet with anyone at the Justice Department or either of the two U.S. Attorneys in Alabama about investigating or indicting Siegelman."

Now, Abrams has written back: "Your letter poses questions that you believe I should have asked as part of our coverage, but many of the most significant ones only you can answer. . . .

"You accuse me of 'diminishing the search for facts and evidence,' yet thus far you have refused to answer any questions under oath or even from me that would aid in that very search. . . .

"This is a prosecution . . . that led over 50 former Attorneys General from around the nation -- Democrats and Republicans -- to express their concern to Congress about the basic fairness of the case. I share many of those concerns. I too have serious questions about the way the case was handled. Given that, is it your contention that it's journalistically unsound to allow the former Governor of the state of Alabama to even state his position on the air? . . .

"You seem particularly incensed that I interviewed Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican who had volunteered for the campaign of Siegelman's opponent and claimed, in sworn testimony, that she heard conversations about you and your involvement. . . .

"Dana Jill Simpson testified under oath about this case while thus far you have refused to do so. If she is lying, she should be prosecuted. But as a journalist isn't it fair to ask why you don't welcome the opportunity to testify as well? With sworn false testimony, there are repercussions. Without it, there is no accountability."

Abrams lists some specific questions he's like Rove to answer. Among them:

"You say you 'certainly didn't meet with anyone at the Justice Department or either of the two US attorneys in Alabama about investigating or indicting Siegelman.' Did you talk to, or otherwise communicate with, any of them about it even if you did not meet? Did you have any discussions with any of them about this topic? . . .

"Did you ever ask anyone else to communicate with any official in the Justice Department about the Siegelman investigation or case?

"Do you know why your lawyer told us that you would testify about this case if you were subpoenaed but now, after you have been invited to do so, he states that there are issues of executive privilege . . . ?"

"You have said you never spoke with the White House about the case. If true, what is the possible 'executive privilege?'"

Tony Snow to CNN

CNN announces: "Former White House press secretary Tony Snow will join CNN as a conservative commentator beginning today. . . .

"'I'm delighted to be able to join CNN during the most exciting and unpredictable political year in memory,' Snow said. 'The big challenge in 2008 is to develop deep, creative and aggressive analysis of both political parties, their candidates and campaigns. I'm eager to get started, since this race is sure to shape American politics for years to come.'"

Here's a sampling of his creative and aggressive analysis from Snow's inaugural appearance on CNN last night with Larry King. Snow: "Look, I think McCain's going to win, actually, because I think security and the economy both break his way."

Snow had a mixed reputation as press secretary. On the one hand, he was seen as generally affable and quick-witted -- a welcome relief from the robotic Scott McClellan. But on the other hand, he generated a lot more heat than light from behind the podium. As I wrote in my Mar. 2, 2007, column, The Spokesman Made for Cable: "Snow seems to treat his encounters with the press more like a cable show than as an opportunity to provide the public with a fuller picture of what's going on inside the White House. His prime goal seems to be to 'win the half hour' -- which generally entails out-talking and mocking your opponent, rather than mustering facts and actually staking out a persuasive position."

Blogger Steve Benen writes: "Snow's on-the-job performance was comparable to Baghdad Bob's, to the point that Snow simply wasn't credible speaking on any subject. Why reward that with a spot on the 'best political team on television'?"

Benen notes "the strange phenomenon of rewarding the Bush gang in general with high-profile opportunities at major media outlets. The Bush White House has been, for lack of a better word, a disaster for the country. From a journalistic perspective, these guys have been a nightmare -- embracing almost comical levels of secrecy, propaganda, and media manipulation.

"And yet, the moment presidential aides leave the West Wing, media outlets jump at the chance to put them on the payroll."

No Deal

Reuters reports: "President George W. Bush, making a highly unusual appearance on U.S. television game show 'Deal or No Deal,' sought show host Howie Mandel's help to deal with the federal budget in upcoming talks with Congress.

"'Howie, I don't know if you're free to come to Washington anytime soon but I have to reach an agreement with Congress on the federal budget. How'd you like to host a $3 trillion dollar 'Deal or No Deal,'' Bush joked.

"In the program, contestants compete to win a $1 million prize and can triple that amount in a bonus round.

"Bush made the appearance via videotape to wish good luck to one contestant, Army Captain Joseph Kobes who is an Iraq war veteran. The president also noted the show's wide popularity saying he was 'thrilled' to be appearing on it.

"'Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days,' he quipped.

"He then thanked Kobes for 'courageous service in Iraq.' . . .

"Kobes did not have $1 million in his case, but he did eventually win $26,000."

Here's the video.

Alessandra Stanley writes in the New York Times on the spectacle of Bush making an appearance "in between the parade of busty women in low-cut gold lamé minidresses and contestants spinning the wheel."

Daphne Retter writes for the New York Post: "Media watchers couldn't immediately recall another sitting president's appearing on a game show, though Richard Nixon was on the 'Laugh-In' variety show."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. Come join the conversation.

Late Night Humor

David Letterman via U.S. News: "Bush was on 'Deal or No Deal.' Apparently, he didn't feel he was ready for 'Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?'"

Cartoon Humor

Mark Fiore on why Bush is so relaxed; Daniel Wasserman on Bush and global warming; Bruce Beattie on Bush's exit strategy; Lee Judge on Bush's plan to eliminate al Qaeda; Mike Luckovich on which candidate is really channeling Bush.

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