Jack Kelly: Unhappy campers
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You've got to hand it to President Bush. For a pretty decent, straightforward guy, he sure has a knack for making enemies.
The economy is booming. There has been no successful terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. Al-Qaida officials acknowledge we're winning the war in Iraq. Yet in the history of polling, only three presidents have had job approval ratings as low or lower than President Bush does now.
The three were Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter just before they left office, and Harry Truman after he had fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Mr. Bush is about where Mr. Carter was (34 percent), but still has a ways to fall to reach the nadirs of Nixon (24 percent) and Truman (23 percent). Will he?
The president's popularity problem isn't one problem, but three.
Nearly all Democrats, most independents and a third of Republicans now disapprove of the job President Bush is doing, but they have different reasons for doing so.
Democrats disapprove of Mr. Bush chiefly because he beat them in 2000, 2002 and 2004. Democrats are against whatever Mr. Bush is for, even if this involves ferocious flip-flopping on their part.
Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state under President Clinton, illustrated Democratic malleability of principle in a speech in Seattle this week.
The major criticism Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had made of President Bush's Iraq policy was its alleged "unilateralism."
The president is attempting to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions through U.N. Security Council action. So Ms. Albright called for unilateral negotiations with Iran. To Democrats, no policy is more important than opposition to what President Bush is for, even if it's what Democrats said they were for yesterday.
Independents are unhappy with (the apparent lack of) progress in the war in Iraq and the price of gasoline.
Republicans are upset about illegal immigration, and runaway government spending.
Even though I like the guy personally, and have only one serious policy disagreement with him (the prescription drug program is unaffordable, and has been a political disaster), I'm one of those giving a thumbs down.
The president (mostly) does the right thing, but does a poor job of communicating why it's the right thing to do.
Immigration could split the GOP. Conservatives -- and not just conservatives -- are incensed that our laws are not being enforced.
I support what the president says he's for -- stiffer border enforcement, coupled with larger quotas for legal immigration; a guest worker program; and a path to legalization for most illegals already here.
I think most Americans would, too -- if they were convinced the president were serious about controlling our borders, which is what is foremost on their minds.
Border enforcement has stiffened in the last year, but Mr. Bush continues to send the wrong signals. He's referred to the Minutemen, the civilians who patrol the borders, as "vigilantes." A report last week that the Border Patrol is informing the Mexicans of the locations of Minutemen patrols is the sort of thing that makes the base seethe with rage.
The president should express sympathy for the Minutemen, if not for all of their policy ideas. He should visit the ranchers whose property is being overrun, and listen to their stories. He should embrace the enforcement provisions in the House bill.
If he does so, he'd get both a comprehensive immigration policy and a rebound in the polls. But if he continues to give the impression he's unconcerned about enforcement, Mr. Bush's popularity could plummet to Nixonian levels.
My attitude toward the Republican "leaders" in Congress alternates between fury and contempt. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman got them to lift their snouts from the public trough long enough to hear that disaster awaits them in November if they continue their free-spending ways.
But greed and fear are enervating. When gasoline prices soared in the wake of Iranian saber-rattling, it was Republican "leaders" who called for an investigation of oil companies, and offered that silly $100 rebate.
The bozos haven't figured out they're in trouble because their base is mad at them, and that anger won't be assuaged by pathetic gestures to appease the left.
I couldn't agree more with Peggy Noonan, who said: "One gets the impression party leaders, deep in their hearts, believe the base is ... base. They're trying to educate the base. But if history is any guide, the base is about to teach them a lesson instead."
First Published May 14, 2006 12:00 am