washingtonpost.com
Bush's New Highs and Lows

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 1, 2008 11:56 AM

With his presidency really hitting Americans where it hurts -- in the pocketbook -- the public is turning against George W. Bush in greater numbers than ever.

In the Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday, Bush hits a career-low 26 percent approval rating. But even more striking, his 70 percent disapproval rating is the highest of any president since the dawn of modern polling.

Bush's ratings couldn't get any worse among Democrats; what's changed is that more Republicans are now disenchanted, too.

Gary Langer writes for ABC News: "Just two presidents have had lower approval (Richard Nixon and Harry Truman) and none has had higher disapproval in polls since 1938."

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post that "the sagging economy has added to the drag on public assessments of the president. . . .

"Nearly three in 10 voters singled out the president as the principal reason the country is in its current economic straits. Wall Street financial institutions and banks followed closely on the blame list. Voters also mention the government, Congress, Republicans, Democrats, overextended home buyers and others as root causes."

Not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidate John McCain's ties to Bush are becoming even more of a drag. "Slightly more than half of voters, 53 percent, said they think the senator from Arizona would lead the country in the same direction as President Bush, a small move up from a Post-ABC poll taken after the GOP convention early last month. Voters who see McCain's candidacy as a continuation of Bush's policies overwhelmingly back [Barack] Obama."

Jon Cohen blogs for The Post that "22 percent, another record low, give [Bush] positive marks on handling the nation's economy.

"There are also signs of growing dissatisfaction among the president's base: 39 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of conservatives now disapprove of how he is handling his job. Both are new highs. And for the first time, a majority of white evangelical Protestants, 52 percent, rate the president's performance negatively. In each of these groups, even higher numbers disapprove of how Bush is handling the economy."

The Gallup Poll earlier this week also found Bush approval at a record low of 27 percent, with only 64 percent of Republicans approving of Bush, down from 71 percent two weeks prior. Independents' and Democrats' ratings were essentially unchanged.

Scare Tactics Lose Their Punch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "For the ninth day in a row, President Bush outlined a frightening scenario yesterday that could occur if Congress does not enact his financial rescue package. . . .

"Throughout his presidency, Bush has often relied on similar warnings of imminent danger to gain support for some of his most controversial initiatives, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq, tax cuts and broad expansions of federal surveillance powers.

"But this time, it hasn't worked so far. . . .

"[M]any lawmakers and political analysts complain that Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., Vice President Cheney and others relied too much on scare tactics in their attempts to win rapid congressional approval of a package that would allow Paulson to purchase bad assets backed by home mortgages in an attempt to shore up the credit markets.

"'The only thing we have to fear is the fear-mongering,' said Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.), who voted against the plan. . . .

"John Kenneth White, a politics professor at Catholic University, said that while fear is a powerful motivator in politics, Bush's approval ratings are so low that even a clear-cut threat is now met with skepticism in some quarters.

"'They went back to a kind of politics of fear, which worked for them for a very long period of time after 9/11,' White said. 'But that doesn't work for him anymore because of his credibility problems. . . . Trust is still the coin of the realm in the end.' . . .

"Yesterday, Bush appeared drawn and frustrated during his brief statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room, and sounded the same themes and warnings that he has issued throughout the crisis."

Dan Balz writes in The Post that "virtual lame-duck status does not fully describe the apparent limits of his power to make things happen at this moment. . . .

"The president was slow to sound the alarms to the public as the crisis deepened, and he ceded most authority to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. When he finally stepped up, he was unable to rally either public opinion or members of his own party behind a rescue package that bore his stamp of approval.

"His speech last week was notable for the clarity with which he described the threat to the economy and equally notable for the lack of impact it had on public opinion or Republicans in Congress. For all he was able to do to put the crisis into understandable terms, he could not convince enough Americans that the rescue package was aimed as much at protecting their finances as it was at protecting greedy financial firms and executives."

Chrystia Freeland writes in a Financial Times opinion piece: "Americans have good reason to distrust their elite. The country's political rulers, led by George W. Bush's strong-arm White House, have made it easy to believe that the US government just doesn't work.

"From Katrina to the war in Iraq (at least before the surge), to the budget deficit, to the lack of a national energy policy, Washington doesn't seem to be delivering very good value to its citizens."

Also, see my column from last Wednesday, The Bush Who Cried Wolf.

Bush Staying Close

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "This bailout business -- or whatever you want to call it -- is wreaking havoc with President Bush's travel schedule. And it is keeping Vice President Dick Cheney on the go. . . .

"Bush was planning to head west on Thursday for a long weekend. Among his first stops -- and now postponed -- was a fund-raiser in Midland, Texas, for Rep. Mike Conaway, the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported today.

"On Friday, he was planning to speak at a wildlife conference in Reno. He is dispatching Cheney, whose kinship with wildlife has been well documented on the bird hunting grounds of Texas."

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "Bush will stay put in Washington 'for as long as it takes to get this done,' said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. He said Bush would not travel on Thursday -- despite news reports he was due in Nevada to address a Republican governors meeting -- and his plans for Friday were subject to change as well."

AFP reports this morning that Bush "will court senators poised to vote on an embattled economic rescue package on Wednesday, the White House said, pushing the US Congress to pass the plan 'this week.'

"'We look forward to the debate, and hope to see strong support. The president will be speaking with senators today,' said spokesman Tony Fratto, who praised the top Democrat and Republican for their work on the bill."

Amanda Terkel blogs for Thinkprogress.org about the reaction to Bush's brief remarks yesterday: "MSNBC turned to New York Magazine's John Heilemann, who commented: 'I don't think that comforts anybody. I don't think that moves a single vote. With due respect and sympathy for the man, that was the picture of a beaten dog. That was the picture of presidential impotence right there. He looked terrible like his bell had been rung. He looked drawn to me.'

"The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan added, 'It strikes me lately, when the President talks about the economic crisis, that he seems like a commentator upon the crisis as opposed to the leader in the crisis.'"

Watch Your Language

Mark Knoller blogs for CBS News: "To hear the White House tell it, one factor in the House vote yesterday against the administration's bailout plan -- was the word 'bailout.'

"'It's really unfortunate shorthand for a very complicated issue.' says White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto.

"He says the administration plan to rescue the financial markets is 'not a bailout for Wall Street' and 'certainly not a bailout for Wall Street CEOs.'

"Okay then -- what should we call it?

"'It's an effort to fix this problem of a frozen asset class that has implications over our entire economy,' said Fratto at the daily White House press briefing.

"That certainly rolls off the tongue: 'an effort to fix the problem of a frozen asset class.'"

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times: "When the Bush administration announced its $700 billion plan to shore up the nation's shaky financial system, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. called it the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Everyone else called it the bailout. And from that point on, its fate may have been set.

"The politics of governance in Washington is as much about marketing as anything else, and from the beginning, the plan often came across as a taxpayer-financed parachute for high-flying Wall Street tycoons."

Justice Watch

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "In 18 months of searching, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility chief H. Marshall Jarrett have uncovered new e-mail messages hinting at heightened involvement of White House lawyers and political aides in the firings of nine federal prosecutors two years ago.

"But they could not probe much deeper because key officials declined to be interviewed and a critical timeline drafted by the White House was so heavily redacted that it was 'virtually worthless as an investigative tool,' the authorities said. . . .

"The standoff is a central reason that Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Monday named a veteran public-corruption prosecutor, Nora R. Dannehy, to continue the investigation, directing her to give him a preliminary report on the status of the case in 60 days.

"But lawmakers who helped expose irregularities in the ouster of the prosecutors say they are concerned about more delays.

"Yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote Mukasey a letter asking whether Dannehy would have the authority to compel documents from the White House and testimony from former presidential aide Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, who rejected invitations to meet voluntarily with the inspector general."

From Whitehouse's letter: "[T]his further investigation would perhaps not be necessary if you would simply insist on cooperation from the White House, and demand full cooperation by your own Office of Legal Counsel. Other Attorneys General, faced with White House challenges of the proper discharge of the Department's duties, have not blinked. Please do not blink."

Michael Isikoff writes for Newsweek: "Karl Rove shows up most nights these days as a commentator on Fox News and offers up political insights in columns for the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. But when Justice Department investigators tried to ask him about his role in the mass firings of U.S. attorneys, the former White House political chief would say nothing, refusing to be questioned at all. . . .

"Rove and his attorney, Robert Luskin, did not respond to repeated request for comment. Rove and Miers had previously refused to answer questions from Congress about the firings, citing White House claims of executive privilege. But as inspector general Glenn Fine noted in the report, the claim of executive privilege did not apply in this instance, since the Justice Department is part of the executive branch itself-one key reason, the report says, that the White House counsel's office 'encouraged' current and former employees to cooperate with the probe. (The White House refused, however, to turn over its own internal emails about the U.S. attorney firings as well as a full copy of a special internal memo, prepared for White House counsel Fred Fielding last year about the firings, citing what it called 'confidentiality interests of a very high order.')"

Also see my Monday column, Pointing the Finger at the White House.

Jay Bookman blogs for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "In any other administration, at almost any other time in U.S. history, the report released this week by the Justice Department's inspector general would constitute a major Page One scandal."

David Iglesias writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "As one of the nine U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration in 2006, I have been carefully monitoring the train wreck that followed. I am not happy to see the enormous damage that has been done to the Department of Justice, a once-venerated institution. But I am pleased that the internal investigations, including the report released Monday by the department, have fully vindicated what my colleagues and I have been saying for the last two years: Improper politicization has crippled the department, and the Bush administration's culture of partisanship-loyalty above all has done a terrible disservice to this country."

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board writes: "A Justice Department report this week on an in-house investigation into the 2006 political purge of federal prosecutors during President Bush's second term all but confirmed an ugly truth: The cover-up continues. . . .

"According to the inspector general's report, the full story behind these firings may never be known. How so? Due to the refusal to cooperate by the White House and former administration officials.

"Three key senior officials have refused to be interviewed so far: Karl Rove, the president's former political zen master; Harriet E. Miers, the one-time White House counsel whom Bush wanted to put on the U.S. Supreme Court; and Monica M. Goodling, the former Justice Department liaison to the White House.

"So even though Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey did the right thing on Monday in appointing a federal prosecutor to continue the investigation, he may have just kicked the can down the road."

The Denver Post editorial board writes: "No one has ever accused Gonzales of being a strong leader at Justice, [and] the report suggests that orders came from on high and largely were carried out by lieutenants with little oversight from Gonzales."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board writes: "Alberto Gonzales resigned as attorney general in August of last year, but the stench of his tenure still clings to the Justice Department."

The Honolulu Star Bulletin editorial board writes: "As the Bush administration limps through its final days, continuing an inquiry into the firing of U.S. attorneys for political purposes would seem pointless - except to restore trust and confidence in the institution duty bound to enforce laws without bias or partisanship."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Congress's inquiry into the firing of nine United States attorneys has already uncovered improper and perhaps illegal activity at the highest levels of the Justice Department. There is considerable evidence that the prosecutors were fired because they insisted on bringing cases harmful to Republicans' electoral chances, or refused to bring cases harmful to Democrats. . . .

"For Ms. Dannehy's investigation to have any credibility, she must obtain sworn testimony from Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other witnesses who have defied Congressional subpoenas. She also needs to get the documents that the White House has refused to hand over to Congress and the inspector general."

Signing Statement Watch

Bush yesterday issued his first "signing statement" in eight months.

These often controversial statements typically assert the president's right to ignore legislation he considers too limiting on his constitutional privileges.

Bush has claimed the authority to disobey hundreds of laws since he took office. But after many years of doing so right and left, he last made such a claim back on January 28. (See my January 30 column, Bush Thumbs Nose at Congress.)

But as the Associated Press reports, Bush "on Tuesday signed a sprawling, stopgap spending bill to keep the government running for the next 12 months. . . .

"The $630 billion-plus spending bill wraps together a record Pentagon budget with aid for automakers and natural disaster victims, and increased health care funding for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The measure also lifts a quarter-century ban on oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, a victory for Bush and fellow Republicans."

And in yesterday's signing statement, in addition to complaining that Congress had generally ducked its responsibilities, Bush stipulated: "Finally, this legislation contains certain provisions similar to those found in prior appropriations bills passed by the Congress that might be construed to be inconsistent with my Constitutional responsibilities. To avoid such potential infirmities, the executive branch will interpret and construe such provisions in the same manner as I have previously stated in regard to similar provisions."

India Nuke Watch

Lachlan Carmichael writes for AFP: "The US Senate has agreed to vote Wednesday on a nuclear pact with India, the final legislative hurdle for a deal that would overturn a three-decade ban on civilian nuclear trade with New Delhi. . . .

"If the Senate endorses the agreement it would finally end a three decades-long ban on nuclear trade with India imposed after it carried out its first nuclear test in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)."

Iraq Watch

Ann Scott Tyson writes in The Washington Post: "Violence in Iraq dropped further during the summer although security gains remain 'reversible and uneven,' with the main threats coming from Iranian-backed militias and the Shiite-led Iraqi government's slow integration of volunteer Sunni fighters, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday."

Leila Fadel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The security gains of the past year -- violence in Baghdad is down by 85 percent -- are far from secure, although American politicians claim that President Bush's surge of additional U.S. troops has put the United States on a path to victory in Iraq."

Late Night Humor

Jon Stewart savors Karl Rove on Fox News saying how appalled he was by Nancy Pelosi's vicious partisan rhetoric.

Cartoon Watch

Stuart Carlson on George W. Hoover, Bill Mitchell on the view from the White House, Terry Mosher (Aislin) on the obvious solution, and Pat Oliphant on the Bush precedent for Palin.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive