Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias As I�m typing this, the radio by the desk in my office is tuned to South Dakota Public Radio.

President Bush is about to address the nation in his State of the Union speech. But, in something reminiscent of the drivel that we were all exposed to before the Super Bowl kickoff last Sunday, political and media pundits are performing a �pre-address� show.

These people are talking about W�s sagging approval ratings. They are talking about how important Tuesday night�s speech will be to the future of his presidency. Someone, in fact, just used a baseball analogy, saying Bush has to �hit one out of the park� in his speech to the nation.

What the experts have so far failed to explain is exactly why Bush should think he needs to try to win Brownie points with the American people.

Sure, the economy isn�t up to speed. We haven�t captured Bin Laden yet. We�re already waging one war against terrorism, and Bush seems intent on launching another military offensive in Iraq.

All of those factors are good reasons to question the policy decisions of the Bush administration. It seems that some people have started breaking out the shovels to dig his political grave. Before we call the engraver for his tombstone, let�s take a look at a few facts.

It was reported in late January that Bush�s public support has eroded steadily over the last 12 months, with a rising number of Americans expressing discontent both with his economic policies and his handling of foreign affairs.

This is according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

While some claim that this is a sign that Bush has little political pulse left, the poll itself appears to indicate otherwise.

The poll found that 59 percent of Americans approve the way he is performing his job. While that figure is the lowest it has been since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we must remember that the president�s ratings were unusually high after Sept. 11, 2001.

By historical standards, they remain strong today.

Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser of the Republican National Committee, is no doubt a Bush supporter.

He raises some points, despite his bias, that are effective in describing the �plight� Bush finds himself in today.

�Much has been discussed about the president�s ?falling� poll numbers and what he needs to do in the State of the Union address to fix this situation,� Dowd said. He added that Paul Krugman, a Democratic leaning pundit with the New York Times, has referred to President Bush�s �plummeting� poll numbers.

Here, according to Dowd, are some facts:

1. Bush approval numbers have �plummeted� all of three points since election day nearly three months ago. His Gallup approval numbers were 63 percent before election day and in the most recent Gallup poll they are 60 percent.

2. Former President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide with a 58 percent job approval rating. Former President Clinton won re-election overwhelmingly with a 54 percent job approval. No president has been defeated with a job approval above 50 percent.

3. State of the Union addresses at this point in presidents� terms don�t usually move numbers on job approval. In 1983, Reagan�s job approval went from 37 percent before the speech to 35 percent after the speech on Gallup job approval. In 1991, Bush Sr.�s job approval went from 83 percent before the speech to 74 percent after the speech. And in 1995, the media�s great orator Clinton went from 47 percent before the speech to 49 percent after the speech.

On top of Dowd�s observations, last month�s New York Times/CBS News polls contained some encouraging findings for Bush.

Two-thirds of respondents were optimistic about the next two years under Bush. And 4 in 10 said the nation would be in better condition five years from now.

Many Americans disagree with Bush on issues like cutting taxes, affirmative action and appointing judges who oppose abortion rights.

A weak economy, a new war, and a growing deficit may further erode Bush�s popularity.

Right now, however, claims of the president�s �plummeting� popularity seems to be woven with myth rather than fact. Bush�s overall job approval rating remains at what most politicians would view as an enviable level.

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