This graph (click on it to enlarge it - its worth it!), from today's Washington Post, shows President George W Bush Jnr's current approval rating. Since around 22nd April, those who disapprove (blue line) outnumber those who approve (red line) and the number is growing. The number who have no real idea of what's going on or simply don't care (green line) is reasonably constant over time.
Not only is the approval rating slipping, but the White house is distracted. It is distracted by the issue of the leak, which led to the resignation and indictment last week of Lewis "Scooter" Libby - the Vice President's Chief of Staff - and the possible later indictment of others, including the President's "brain", Karl Rove. It is distracted by its continued failure to handle Katrina, Wilma and various other natural disasters at home and abroad well. It is distracted by Iraq and the continued insurgence and acts of vile terror that are conducted there every day, endagering coalition troops and threatening a fragile seedling democracy. It is distracted by an economy which is in deep trouble, partly because of Government debt but mainly because of consumer debt and the potential of inflation. It is distracted by the mishandling of the appointment of an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court. It is distracted by a world that, increasingly, does not know what to do with the US on any issue - global warming, the future of the UN, peacekeeping.
The major reason, however, that these distractions are serious is that President George W Bush Jnr does not seem to have a vision for what he wants to accomplish in this second and last term. It is just a year ago that he won a convincing and predictable victory in the electoral process American puts itself through - gruelling and demanding as this is. In that year, despite some notable successes (the reasonably smooth replacement of the Chief Justice, succeeding in his appointment of a contoversial ambassador to the UN, securing an alliance on some aspects of environmental management with other countries), it all now seems to be coming apart.
Writing about the predicament President Bush finds himself in, Dan Balz of the Washington Post observes:
The president's advisers recognize the reality in which they find themselves.
"What the public wants is back-to-basics governance and decision making,"
presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said yesterday. "This is not a situation in
which it changes overnight or that there's a 'Hail Mary' pass that changes the
dynamic. . . . There's not a magic bullet."
He needs to speak to issues that American's care about: (a) getting the economy under control by reducing spending (made more difficult by the Iraq war spend and Katrina) and finding ways of reducing deficit and debt; (b) focusing on free trade and expanding the US market presence in the face of growing competition from China, India, Brazil and Mexico; (c) fixing social security and access to health, especially for the most vulnerable in American society; (d) rebuilding the credibility of the US in the world by making it clear just where it stands on key issues - global warming, peacekeeping, the future of the UN; and (e) a clear plan for getting out of Iraq. It also needs to minimize distractions - the phony "war on terror", patronage scandals, Iran's nuclear program.
The Republican Party needs to work hard too. It needs to identify one or two front runners for the next election and start to position them now. They need to be offering a view of the future that involves vision, strategy and challenging goals for the Government to meet. Jeb Bush is well positioned for the Republican's and has done a competent job for the State of Florida. He comes tainted as part of the Bush dynasty, but he is solid. The other possibility is Condi Rice, the Secretary of State who is doing a sterling job and is as sharp as a pin - she is constrained in what she can say and do and will be even more tainted than Jeb.
One would expect the Democratic Party to be having a field day, but if there is anything interesting at all about the current situation it is their near silence. Hilary Clinton, still seen by most as the front runner for 2007/8, has kept quiet - knowing too well just what these situations are like, having been before a Grand Jury herself and having watched her husband go through legal challenges and a failed impeachment.
Early next year, Bush will attempt to use his State of the Union address to chart a revised agenda for the rest of his term, which his advisers believe will help signal changes in direction and emphasis from the past year. Outside analysts agreed that Bush has plenty of time left to extricate himself from his problems but expressed skepticism that things will work out as well as the president's advisers hope.
So it is his successors that should really worry now.