President Bush has the singular distinction of being the most unpopular president since presidential popularity has been measured. Long gone are the 80% approval ratings he enjoyed during his first term – the highest approval ratings since presidential popularity has been measured. So what changed?
Bush’s approval rating was highest when he had a Republican Congress and the sting of 9-11 was still fresh in our minds. However, things happened to shape the perfect storm that drove his poll numbers into the ditch. First, he bungled the Iraq War – mirroring the political failure in wartime of Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam. Were it not for the surge promoted by General Petraeus and Senator John McCain, the war in Iraq would be all but lost because of political rather than military management. Second, while Bush promoted extensive tax cuts, he also mirrored the politically unpopular social policies of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” after the Democrats took over Congress.
Democrats and Republicans alike are unhappy with Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. Before long, the public will have the same misgivings about the Afghanistan front on the War on Terror. The rank and file of each party may not agree on whether we should have toppled Hussein in the first place, but all agree that management of the war effort has been too costly in terms of our national treasure – human lives and money – that could have been invested elsewhere.
Had Bush been better prepared and more circumspect before going into Iraq, chances are the military would have had the freedom to accomplish its mission to secure the country and return it to the people of Iraq in a much shorter timeframe. The Democrats would still hate him for his “war of choice”, but hawkish people in the Republican ranks would have viewed his decision as sound and the outcome successful. The irony in the war’s implications on the 2008 election is that the one person in Congress with the understanding and heart to fix the mess Bush made of the war is Senator McCain. His opposition to Bush on wartime policy has gone un-noticed because Bush tarnished the “Republican brand” along with his own reputation.
Read Daddy’s Lips
Taxes and spending have also been managed poorly from a “messaging” standpoint during the Bush administration. Bush’s tax cuts took 40 million low and moderate income taxpayers (including myself) off of the rolls. This is more than the reduction in taxpayer base than the tax cuts promoted by Reagan and JFK. An across the board tax cut combined with refundable credits for low-income people will almost always result in larger amounts of money saved by wealthy people – but proportionally lower tax relief. That was the case with the Bush tax cuts. Consider this analysis from the Pro-Obama New York Times:
“The report shows that a comparatively small number of very wealthy households account for a very big share of total tax payments, and their share increased in the first four years after Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.
The top 1 percent of income earners paid about 36.7 percent of federal income taxes and 25.3 percent of all federal taxes in 2004. The top 20 percent of income earners paid 67.1 percent of all federal taxes, up from 66.1 percent in 2000, according to the budget office.
By contrast, families in the bottom 40 percent of income earners, those with incomes below $36,300, typically paid no federal income tax and received money back from the government. That so-called negative income tax stemmed mainly from the earned-income tax credit, a program that benefits low-income parents who are employed.
Put another way: rich families were the undisputed winners from President Bush’s tax cuts, but people in the bottom half of the earnings scale were not paying much in taxes anyway.”
The Times did not mention the Bush increase in the Child Tax Credit which also enhanced the “real” spending power of low income families which tend to be larger than their wealthier counterparts. Senator McCain wants to expand this credit and Senator Obama has similar “redistributive” leanings as well.
While the paper casts wealthy as the “undisputed winners” from President Bush’s tax cuts, the truth is that we all are winners when across the board tax relief is combined with targeted tax credits as was the case here. Still, the media insists on promoting the myth that a person who pays 35% of his earnings in taxes to the federal government instead of 36.5% is enjoying an unfair advantage over guys like me who pay no taxes at all – and in fact are eligible for their share of an immoral redistribution of Bill Gate’s hard earned wealth.
Many Republicans across all income levels see the tax cuts as one of the few things Bush did not screw up. The “other side” of the fiscal policy coin is Bush’s caving to the Democrats in Congress to pass the most sweeping and costly “Great Society” type program in history as they joined hands to expand Medicare entitlements and enact the Medicare Prescription Drug program. Republicans saw the expansion of social entitlements without corresponding cuts in other areas of government as a shortcut to bankrupting the country just as the social policies of FDR and Johnson did. Democrats saw them as token efforts that will not truly help people in need.
Bush has more baggage that inflames the wrath of people on both sides. Among them are a handful of initiatives that would have promoted “amnesty” for illegal aliens and his continuing support for an “ownership society” that allowed Democrats in Congress to expand the Community Reinvestment Act – along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is this last “offense” for which he and his entire party will be held accountable in November. It is ironic that the “GOP Rebels” in the House of Representatives and Senator McCain (along with about 18 of his GOP colleagues) have been fighting to have Fannie Mae more closely regulated since 2005. People know that Congress makes the laws and pass the budgets – but they also know the President has veto power and the responsibility to implement the spending and policy priorities sent to him by the congress. Since he failed in the public mind, his party will bear the brunt.
So Why “Hate” Bush?
Pointing the finger at the Democratic Congress just won’t work. Most Americans who’ve had even a basic Civics class knows that a president cannot do anything to affect the natural cycles of the economy. Still, they expect a president to take leadership on important economic and foreign policy issues. While Bush has done this, and while many in his party within the Congress have sought to rein in some of the profligate spending, politics reigns supreme. The leadership in Congress run the process with an iron fist and with a media that is 90% aligned with their cause, can hold a president hostage to their spending priorities by putting them in otherwise popular bills – assuring there will be no veto.
To his credit, Bush has vetoed some bad legislation, including some absurd spending priorities put forward by the Democrat controlled Congress. However, when the time came for leadership over politics, he did not confront the out of control congress. Now, he is paying the price – for himself, his party and ultimately the country – for not standing up to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
The Least Popular?
With a 27% approval rating in the polls, it’s hard to imagine that there is anyone less popular in American Politics than George Bush. It may surprise you that the less popular politicians are Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. While the congress’ overall approval is at 10% — 17% lower than President Bush – Pelosi and Reid have even lower approval ratings. This is reported on with more detail on the QuiverDaddy blog.
It may be a result of the same “perfect storm” that Bush was whacked by, but it is more likely an indicator that other than the war, Americans of both parties are not up for Socialist policies that take from the middle class and give to the client class. Maybe it’s that they recognize the most profligate spending and irresponsible management of the housing crisis originates in the Congress. In the absence of a president who has the constitutional authority to originate a budget – and has failed to use his bully pulpit – Congress literally wrote the check their butts cannot cash.
One must assume Obama will have coattails and the projected gains among Democrats in Congress will become a reality. If that’s the case, we will have an unpopular president and an even more unpopular Congress four years from now.
And that’s the only “change” you can believe in.