Bush's poll numbers are sagging in the wake of high gas prices, the misperception of stagnation in Iraq, and the drubbing administered by his opponents in the wake of Katrina. A recent NBC/Wall Sreet Journal poll got these results:
Clearly, the relentless criticism of Bush is taking its toll. It makes us wonder what Americans think the purpose of electing a president is. It's rather like electing the bull which will be sacrificed to the media matadors. Presidential politics is little more than bloodsport for journalists and politicians. We put someone through a campaign wringer and whoever the people toss the bouquet toward is then set upon, as if by wild dogs, and torn to pieces until he can no longer stand. By the time he is thoroughly bloodied we're already anticipating the next round of campaigns and frenzied attacks. We are a people who has come to delight in destroying our leaders. We're little better than the Romans who cheered lustily for death and mayhem during the gladiatorial contests in the Coliseum.
Now the champ, who had been coasting along in his fifteen rounder against a host of media lightweights, appears to be staggering under their repeated blows, and the media can barely conceal its excitement. E.J. Dionne delivers himself of a fatuous column proclaiming the end of the Bush presidency, and the talking heads and media mavens all seem to be in agreement. Katrina has finished Bush.
This is, of course, all nonsense and wishful thinking. The president's critics hope that if they pronounce him TKO'd often enough and loud enough it'll come true. In fact, poll numbers are ephemeral things, based as they often are on the opinion of people who scarcely know what's going on in the world and who respond to the pollster's call by repeating whatever they've heard others say. This poll, we're told, was based on a survey of 1013 adults. We aren't told whether the respondents were voters or likely voters. The article doesn't identify their political party. If the pollsters just randomly selected a thousand people off the street in a country where almost half of the adults don't care enough to vote and can't name their own senators the results really are uninformed at best and meaningless at worst.
Consider, for a moment, the response to the question about our preparedness for a terrorist WMD attack. Seventy five percent of the respondents said they believe we're unprepared. How on earth do they know enough to answer that question? No one, not even the president or the secretary of Homeland Security, knows for sure whether we're prepared. But skepticism and cynicism always make respondents sound sophisticated so they simply give the skeptical, cynical answer without having the faintest idea whether we're prepared or not. Tim Russert then goes on the evening news tonight and solemnly intones that this lack of confidence somehow implies that in fact we really must not be prepared and that really spells trouble for Bush. Russert should know better than to draw conclusions from such polls while Bush still has three years left in his presidency.
But even if we take the results at face value, I'm not sure why Bush's political opponents would be gleeful over them. After all, only 27% said we should rescind the tax cut and only 7% said we should raise taxes. That's not a result that Democrats should find reassuring.
Here's our prediction. Katrina will be little more than a historical blip in the Bush presidency. Bush will be defined by three things: His response to 9/11, the war on terror, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the economy, and the Supreme Court. Those like Dionne who say the Bush era is over will have lots of egg on their face, especially if Bush gets his picks, the two he has now and perhaps a third a year or two from now, seated on the Supreme Court.