Wednesday, July 21, 2004
J.K. Galbraith the Younger earlier noted that, excluding the "rally effect" of various wartime events such as 9/11 and the capture of Saddam, which led to massive spikes in popularity, Bush's approval ratings had been declining throughout his presidency at a fairly steady rate of about 1.6 percentage points a month. Now Galbraith analyzes Bush's recent bounce in the polls and concludes that the President may have bottomed out already. The question is: if the President does find himself withing striking distance of a win in November, what won't he do to seal the deal?
All of this suggests that the true pattern is one in which events drive voters either toward Bush (9/11, Iraq, Saddam) or away from him (Abu Ghraib), but always with a slow return afterward toward the battle lines of 2000. The "two countries" -- red state, blue state -- view of American political life could be correct in the end.
This is not particularly good news for any Democrats tempted, at this early date, to predict an easy victory. Yes, Bush is down, and he's behind in head-to-head matchups. But there is still time for an attack on our soil, a crisis overseas, or victory in the "war on terror" to put him back in positive territory, at least for a while. Is this why we see administration pressure on Pakistan, as reported by John Judis in the New Republic, to deliver a "high-value target" in the days immediately ahead? Is this why we see the vague but threatening terror warnings of recent weeks, including the absurd suggestion that November's voting might have to be postponed?
I'm only asking. But these maneuvers do resemble the Republicans' tactics in 2002, when they rolled out the run-up to the Iraq War (White House chief of staff Andrew Card called it "new product") before the election. If you haven't figured it out, abuse of power isn't something these people do. It's who they are.