Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dan Froomkin: From Hero to Goat

From Hero to Goat By Dan Froomkin Special to washingtonpost.com Monday, January 22, 2007; 1:20 PM

After six years of striding onto the House floor like a conqueror, President Bush will arrive for Tuesday night's State of the Union Speech deeply unpopular and politically crippled.

The most vivid symbol of the new order of things will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally looking over his shoulder. With Pelosi's Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress -- and some members of the president's own party peeling off as he pushes stubbornly ahead in Iraq -- Bush will find his friends far outnumbered by his foes.

The pomp of the State of the Union address and the deference given to Bush's office will prevent the night from turning into an outright rout.

But as a defensive measure, White House speechwriters are said to have crafted a speech that avoids the traditional laundry list of proposals and applause lines that would almost surely have fallen flat -- or even led to boos and groans -- given Bush's new circumstances.

To some extent, what's amazing is that it has taken this long.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Bush's approval rating, now at an all-time low of 33 percent, has been solidly in negative territory ever since April of 2005. That's 21 months. And the percentage of Americans who find him honest and trustworthy, now at an all-time low of 40 percent, has been in negative territory since November of 2005, or a little over a year.

Even as the public turned against him, Congress was there for President Bush. But no more.

USA Today Interview David Jackson writes in USA Today: "President Bush can't guarantee that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of his presidency because 'we don't set timetables,' and said the war on terrorism will remain a 'long struggle' for his successors, he told USA Today in an interview.

"Bush believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can clamp down on sectarian violence, and he warned Iran not to aid Iraqi insurgents. Bush's comments came in a wide-ranging chat Friday to preview his State of the Union speech, in which he'll argue 'what happens in Iraq matters to your security here at home.'"

In the accompanying story on domestic issues, Jackson writes that Bush highlighted Social Security, energy and immigration.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

"Q: Are you seeing any evidence that people are listening or responding to your argument?

"A: What matters is what happens on the ground. That would be the best way to show the American people that the strategy, the new strategy I've outlined, will work. . . .

"Q: Now I've often heard you say during the campaign, 'The job of the president is to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents or future generations.' Is Iraq going to be a problem for the next president?

"A: The war on terror will be a problem for the next president. Presidents after me will be confronting with this, with an enemy that would like to strike the United States again, an enemy that is interested in spreading their vision -- I call it a totalitarian vision of governance -- an enemy that will kill innocent people to achieve their objectives and an enemy that would like to acquire weapons that could do serious damage. . . .

"Q: Will the U.S. be out of Iraq in January of '09?

"A: That's a timetable; I just told you we don't put out timetables."

Poll Watch Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write for The Washington Post: "President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday at the weakest point of his presidency, with dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies continuing to rise and confidence in his leadership continuing to decline, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .

"Americans overwhelmingly oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the conflict. By wide margins, they prefer that congressional Democrats, who now hold majorities in both chambers, take the lead in setting the direction for the country rather than the president. . . .

"The president will use his speech to try to rally public opinion behind his troop deployment plan, but during the past 10 days he has made no headway in changing public opinion. The Post-ABC poll shows that 65 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, compared to 61 percent who opposed the plan when the president unveiled it Jan. 10 in a nationally televised address. . . .

"Only two presidents have had lower approval ratings on the eve of a State of the Union speech. Richard Nixon was at 26 percent in 1974, seven months before he resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal. Harry S. Truman was at 23 percent in January 1952, driven down by public disapproval of the Korean conflict and his firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. . . .

"Just 42 percent say he can be trusted in a crisis, with 56 percent saying he cannot -- the first time a majority has given him a negative rating on a crucial element of presidential leadership."

Here are the complete results.

Darlene Superville writes for the Associated Press: "Americans seem sour on the state of the union in advance of President Bush's address on the subject." She has results from the Associated Press-AOL News poll.

Brian Braiker writes for Newsweek that "the latest Newsweek poll finds that Bush's call for a 'surge' in troops is opposed by two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans and supported by only a quarter (26 percent). Almost half of all respondents (46 percent) want to see American troops pulled out 'as soon as possible.'

"Bush's Iraq plan isn't doing anything for his personal approval rating either; it's again stuck at its lowest point in the history of the poll (31 percent)."

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