Washing Post Perplexed By Bush's Record Disapproval

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jul 25, 2007 at 13:00

As I reported two weeks ago, Bush's disapproval numbers have now equaled Nixon's worst. The Washington Post picks up on this story today, noting that not only are Bush's disapproval numbers equal to Nixon (in polling terms, one point is the same thing as equal), but that they have been this high for longer than Nixon:

Nixon remains the most unpopular modern president, though barely. His disapproval rating reached 66 percent on Aug. 5, 1974, four days before he resigned amid Watergate. Harry S. Truman reached Bush's current disapproval rating of 65 percent in February 1952 amid the unpopular Korean War. George H.W. Bush came close before losing his bid for reelection in 1992, with 64 percent disapproval.

The current president, though, has endured bad numbers longer than Nixon or his father did and longer than anyone other than Truman. His disapproval rating has topped 50 percent for more than two years. And though Truman hit 65 percent once, Bush has hit that high three times in the past 14 months.

Predictably, even though their own poll is showing these numbers, the same Washington Post that finds ¼ inch of Senator Clinton's cleavage "provocative", and editorializes against Democrats for not offering Republicans a meaningless way to worm out appearing to support the Iraq war, writes an article first arguing that Bush does not deserve such a low approval rating:

Chris Bowers :: Washing Post Perplexed By Bush's Record Disapproval
Many presidents over the past 70 years have faced greater or more immediate crises without falling as far in the public mind -- Vietnam claimed far more American lives than Iraq, the Iranian hostage crisis made the United States look impotent, race riots and desegregation tore the country apart, the oil embargo forced drivers to wait for hours to fill up, the Soviets seemed to threaten the nation's survival.

"It's astonishing," said Pat Caddell, who was President Jimmy Carter's pollster. "It's hard to look at the situation today and say the country is absolutely 15 miles down in the hole. The economy's not that bad -- for some people it is, but not overall. Iraq is terribly handled, but it's not Vietnam; we're not losing 250 people a week. . . . We don't have that immediate crisis, yet the anxiety about the future is palpable. And the feeling about him is he's irrelevant to that. I think they've basically given up on him."

And then blaming it on the blogosphere:

Today cable news, talk radio and the Internet have made information far more available, while providing easy outlets for rage and polarization. Public disapproval of Bush is not only broad but deep; 52 percent of Americans "strongly" disapprove of his performance and 28 percent describe themselves as "angry."

"A lot of the commentary that comes out of the Internet world is very harsh," said Frank J. Donatelli, White House political director for Ronald Reagan. "That has a tendency to reinforce people's opinions and harden people's opinions."

OK, as much as of a blogosphere triumphalist as I tend to be, even I think it is a stretch to argue that we bloggers are the reason Bush has such a sucky approval rating. The real reason Bush's disapproval is so high, despite the "not that bad" economy, is that it isn't good for most people, not just some. As Bondad has down, job growth under Bush is the worst in decades, and those who do have jobs haven't had a raise in seven years (on average). Record deficits immediately following a surplus, not to mention the attempt to destroy social security, probably also didn't improve Bush's image of economic stewardship. As far as Iraq goes, no, not as many Americans are dying as did in Vietnam, but Americans don't use that as their point of expectation for how badly a war is going anymore. More likely reference points are the First Gulf War, as well as repeated claims from the Bush administration about how easy Iraq was going to be, how the mission was accomplished, how the insurgency is repeatedly in its last throes, and how things are supposedly getting better and better in Iraq all the time, even though the death toll keeps rising. There is also the off chance that both Iraq and Hurricane Katrina made American look more impotent to many of its citizens than even the hostage crisis did. Record prices of gas might remind a few Americans of the oil embargo, too. Or maybe, just maybe, after a decade of peace and prosperity in the 1990's, Americans have come to expect a little more than regular race riots, record gas prices when adjusted for inflation, being dealt international humiliation at the hands of a theocratic regime, a stagnant economy, and 35 dead American soldiers a day before disapproving of a president. Then again, right now America is actually close to facing elements of all of that at once.

Ah, forget that. What whiners! How dare Americans disapprove of Bush until 20,000 American soldiers have died, gas costs $8 a gallon, three more major American cities are destroyed by natural disasters, and we have entered a full-blown economic depression! They should have known what was coming from Bush's first inaugural address when he declared that "Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over." Expectations should have been lowered accordingly.  We can't possibly expect Bush to be as good as Clinton, after all.  I mean Clinton was a Rhodes scholar who worked his way up from public schools, people. A Rhodes scholar! How can a C student who got into Yale due to family connections like Bush possibly compete with that? Perhaps Bush's disapproval rating should be grading on a curve. I'm sure Fred Hiatt would agree.

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great post. (4.00 / 1)
I think that you might have de-emphasized the rise of class over race as a defining aspect of politics. This is certainly caused by all of the failures of government that you've listed, but I think it is a monumental sea change that deserves attention.

I was watching book tv (how exciting!) and a panel speaker basically said that class and race in America are like two sides of the same coin. Politics is heavily influenced by one or the other based on the zeitgeist.

I think we've finally reached the tipping point where class -- or economic issues -- have become more important than race -- or identity issues. This is terrible for Republicans, who have disguised themselves in faux identity-based populism for at least the last 30 years. Certainly, issues of race, gender and sexual orientation will always be important, but they aren't getting as much traction as they used to. Gay marriage is not a killer issue anymore. 

This shift is historic. We haven't had a class dominated political discourse since at least the 1950's, and I'd argue that class lost its political clout post-FDR.

Anyhow, the Washington Post is still in their old identity-based political mentality. Also, they are a ruling-class institution, so of course this isn't going to make sense to them. They exist to justify the behavior of rich people, the concentration of wealth and the militarization of American society.

I mean, there are great reporters like Dana Priest, but Broder and Hiatt are beyond hacks. They are corrupt symbols of a bygone era -- an era where only the rich were allowed to wage class warfare, and where American imperalism was not up for debate.

I guess my point is, (0.00 / 0)
that the people in charge of that institution are literally unable to think about politics in a class dominated way. To do so would be acknowledge their complicity in the present disaster that is "America".

You can actually see the same mentality in the Republican debates. They are trying to push all of the right buttons with the GOPs authoritarian, militaristic base -- reality be damned.

Of course the reality is that America can't do anything big for at least the next decade. China has so much of our debt that they could destroy our economy. We are bogged down in "Iraq" which is a genuine military disaster with no solution. We NEED that oil for our economy to function -- not just for our cars, but for our agricultural system. We're asking our military to do more than is possible.

The point is, we're spread too thin to be that glorious militaristic country that the GOP candidates fantasize about. It really is not possible -- but they can't think along any other lines.

[ Parent ]
Economics and authoritarianism (0.00 / 0)
Agree about race and class, although I think to some extent race in the traditional sense has just gotten subsumed under class for many black people, and for whites immigration is the new racism.  (Ie, blacks mostly vote class and many whites are fixating on the unfamiliar new hordes.)

But we ought also to consider the confluence of class and authoritarianism.  One answer to the "Thomas Franks" question (why do less well off conservatives vote against their class interest) is that authoritarians fundamentally believe a version of the Puritan doctrine of the elect--the well off are so because they are superior, have favor in God's eyes, so it is not for us to criticize them (or God).  Abortion and gay marriage are where God's work needs to be done.

People who are not authoritarians and conservatives don't think this way, unless they are in the top 1-5%, in which case they believe it is entirely to their own efforts and reflects God's favor.  The rest of us think we need progresive taxation, some kind of universal healthcare and more regulation to mitigate the harshness of the market, and don't think the economy is really serving the interests of the many.
(Or we also vote ideology and not our class interests.)


John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
Illusion of 5% unemployment (4.00 / 1)
I have a relatively good job but by and large I've experienced none of the excitement that I used to feel during the 90's.  Here in MI the economy has been very stagnant, and the housing market has been slow for a good two+ years.  You did an excellant job of pointing out what the media keeps telling us and the reality of what we face each and every day.  It's like those retarded news stories about how high gas prices are and the dim witted reporter going station to station to get owners into 2 cent price war.  I'll have a stroke the day a reporter is in the face of a wholesaler asking why he's charging station owners such insane prices for refined gas.  but in the end, the mediatocracy is stuck with the notion that "95%" of the available workforce has jobs so things must be good.  mmm, no, not if that number is massaged or people reliy on credit cards to supplement their income.  Credit cards, the tulipomania of the 21st century

More on 5% Ilusion (0.00 / 0)
Let's also not forget that that's 95% of those who have not yet used up all of their unemployment benefits. Those of us who have been unemployed for a year or more are no longer part of the equation. We simply disappear between the cracks.

And while 95% may be employed, how many of those are UNDER-employed, working at Wal-Mart or the local gas station just to put SOME food on the table.

[ Parent ]
Inside-the-beltway approval (4.00 / 2)
As comparisons to Nixon become more and more apt, it's important to remember a critical difference between Dubya and Tricky Dick: their insider approval ratings are wildly different.

While both administrations have conducted themselves in a way that's overtly hostile to the press's ostensible mission, Nixon was truly at odds with his press corps in a way Bush never has been. Bush has made the political class his accomplices for the most part, and even as they recognize the substantive failures of Bush's terms in office, they're reluctant to really dig into all that nasty business. Contrast that with the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, etc.

DC culture has changed a lot since the early '70s, and that's pretty much what's keeping Bush in office: his inside-the-beltway approval rating and the reticence to fully investigate his actions. If we had the kind of press corps now that we had then, Bush would be on his way out, I think.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

Housing slide (0.00 / 0)
Much of America has had a hard time keeping up with the real increases in the cost of living.  The silver lining had been the phenomenal increase in housing prices.  Considering that around 65% of American own their housing, this was 1) the major source of retirement nest eggs 2) a source of "getting ahead" 3) in some cases a source of ready cash.  That's stopped and with it, Bush's approval rate has gone through the basement.

Yes, as Mike said the other day, the big media is the most crooked and corrupt part of it all.  They haven't gotten that this is the most divisive administration in American history.  They haven't gotten that income and rewards has skewed badly with the very tippity top getting more and ever body else holding on for dear life.  Thisd is class warfare in terms not seen since the end of the 19th century and most of us are losing.

They haven't seen the lies.  The diminishment of civil liberties.  But they picked on Bill Clinton and his 60% approval rating inmercifully because on a class basis, Clinton was not "one of them" and George W. Bush is.  Well, the ruling class is gonna start seeing some pitchforks if they continue being deaf, dumb, blind, and greedy.


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