Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Doctor Was Taking Too Long to Fix My Arm, So I Cut Off My Nose

According to the most recent round of Zogby polls, President Bush has just notched record low approval ratings (via Atrios):
Only 29 percent of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance, below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30 percent in March.
This would come as a surprise to anyone who has been listening to the so-called liberal media chorus which has been claiming that the past week was a big win for President Bush. The Zogby poll in question had another record low performer, though: the US Congress.
A paltry 11 percent rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.
Which brings me to yet another maddeningly prevalent media narrative: that the President might be unpopular, but so are the Democrats. "Why, just look at the approval ratings for the Democratically controlled Congress - their numbers are even lower than Bush's!" Thus, the Democrats are in trouble, and the GOP is better placed for 2008 than some would claim.

There are several glaring shortcomings in this analysis. For one, the approval ratings for individual members of Congress are much higher, which indicates an institutional critique, not a candidate-by-candidate dissatisfaction such that the next elections will swing in another direction. Second, the Democrats don't really control the Senate. There is a 50-50 tie, with Lieberman giving the Dems a whisker majority mostly for organizational purposes, and rarely in terms of voting on key legislation. It would be nice if this point were made more often in the media's coverage of the Senate.

But the most fundamental interpretive flaw flows from this: Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents ever, and the policies that he and the GOP have implemented (from Iraq, to the economy, to domestic mismanagement) fare little better in the public's eyes. The poll numbers reflect this consistently. The Congress, on the other hand, is getting hammered in these opinion polls for...not doing enough to stop the unpopular Bush/GOP agenda!

For example, the voters want an end to the Iraq war, but the Democrats haven't been able to make progress because Bush and the Republican lawmakers have stymied these efforts repeatedly. But impatience and anger with the Democrats for their inability to effectively roll back the many policy manifestations of the Bush/GOP years does not accrue to the benefit of the GOP. Especially a GOP caucus who, when not loudly agreeing with Bush, mainly criticizes the President for not pushing his unpopular policies far enough.

From the foreign policy side, Bush should be doubling Gitmo, we should expand the Iraq war into Iran, Syria and possibly other locales, our foreign policy should be marked by less circumspection and, echoing Bush, there have been no major mistakes in the approach embraced during the previous 6-plus years. Domestically, we should continue to run enormous deficits by making permanent the tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans, a national health care system that would actually deliver health care to people would be socialism and thus should not be attempted, and we should redouble our efforts to scale back, if not kill, Social Security.

And yet, the chattering classes would have us believe that millions of Americans will hold Congress responsible for not stopping Bush, and as punishment these voters will vote for a candidate that promises to...double down on the Bush policies that Congress didn't do enough to counter. That only makes sense in the bizarro world of the Beltway pundits as described by Greenwald:
In their world, the Republicans are always ascendant, Bush is always the Strong Leader, Democrats are always the sorry losers captive to their destructive Leftist extremists, and Americans are aching to support the War. They have been predicting endlessly that, any day now, all of this will be true again.
Actually, I hope the GOP field hews to this worldview: Just promise four more years of Bush, and the voters will reward you. Say it early and often.

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