Bush Less Popular Than Dick Nixon

Bush Less Popular than Dick Nixon

Could Iraq be the undoing of both major political parties that backed the war in the West?

President Bush is suffering from the worst poll numbers of any second-term president in the spring after his reelection since World War II. If the rest of his second term goes like this, it could hand the Democrats the White House in 2008.

Editor and Publisher put the poll in historical context and found that Bush is relatively unpopular.

Mark Murray gives some of the reasons for the fall in Bush’s popularity, but sees Bush’s pitiful 45-48 percent poll numbers as solid or good. The whole picture looks much worse in historical context, which is further proof that judgment about contemporary affairs made in a historical vacuum is always flawed.

Murray points to public dislike of Bush’s plan for privatizing social security and its disgust at the Republicans’ grave-robbing grandstanding in the Schiavo case, as well as a general feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction (51%), as explanations for Bush’s poor showing.

Murray mysteriously leaves out the petroleum factor. I have been amazed that a doubling of gas prices was just accepted by Americans as a matter of course and did not become an issue in last year’s presidential campaign. The public still hates Jimmy Carter for allowing such a thing (as if he could have done anything about it). I presume that stoicism over petroleum prices was a by-product of the war mentality. Maybe Americans felt that their country had come under attack on September 11, and the subsequent wars and gas price hikes just had to be borne.

But the issue is finally emerging. In a recent poll, 58 % said the gas prices were creating a serious financial hardship for them. USA Today reports, “Nearly half of those polled — 48% — said they already have cut driving to reduce their fuel bills, and 38% say they’ve trimmed other household spending.” People are also buying fewer SUVs, which isn’t going to help the US auto industry. The present concern probably comes because the public has begun to suspect that prices are not going back down. About $10 a barrel of the current $57 a barrel for petroleum probably derives from speculation and anxiety in the oil markets resulting from the Iraq war and ongoing crisis. Prices at the pump might be $1.80 rather than $2.20 if it weren’t for Iraq.

And then there is Iraq. In a recent poll, “53 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent said they disapprove of the president’s handling of Iraq and 70 percent said the number of U.S. casualties, including more than 1,500 deaths, is an unacceptable price to pay there.”

My American readers seem completely uninterested in British politics, to my amazement. But it is worth noting that Tony Blair has called for elections May 5, isn’t doing well in the polls, and admits that the Iraq debacle has hurt him. His government has been dogged by questions of whether Blair knew the war to be illegal before he helped launch it, whether he promised Bush to support such a war early in Bush’s presidency, and whether he knew or should have known how bad was the intelligence on the basis of which it was set in motion. The British public, unlike the American, actually cares, moreover, about things like the Geneva Conventions and international law, and the Iraq prison abuse scandals have hurt Blair’s image, as well. (Bush, on the other hand, has been teflon in the US in the face of torture, intelligence failures, and gross mismanagement of the country he conquered, apparently because a majority of Americans just doesn’t care).

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is also running away from the Iraq issue by announcing he’ll start pulling out troops in September, for the purposes of positioning himself in his own upcoming election. He knows what happened to Aznar in Spain.

Is Iraq becoming an electoral albatross around the necks of the victors?

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