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:
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.