A president’s second term is, for lack of a better term, crappy. This is one of the truisms of politics, from Andrew Jackson and the Wildcat banks to Bill Clinton and Monica. Something always arises to muck up the grand plans mapped out during the reelection campaign. Hell, the last president to actually have a good second term was James Monroe. And yet President Bush has fallen into that malaise much more quickly and deeply than the average second term president.
The most recent example can be seen in last week’s revolt of “moderate” Republicans, as 22 congressmen defected to defeat the budget, and a smaller number defected earlier during the week to block a bill to start drilling in the ANWR. This type of repeated resistance toward the president’s agenda by members of his own party would have been practically unthinkable as recently as eight months ago.
This newfound independence is almost certainly fueled by a new set of polls showing Democrats holding a 15 point generic-ballot lead over the GOP, while the latest poll from Harris Interactive shows Bush with a 65 percent disapproval rating, the third highest in American history. It becomes a lot easier to ignore your party’s leaders when they’re nothing more than a millstone around your neck.
As for the reason why lame-duck status has struck Bush early, well, to be honest, he’s quite simply had a bad year, which greatly expedited the process. For example, his heavily vaunted Social Security plan, which he promised to stake his reputation upon, was DOA and never even proposed in Congress. That in turn made Bush look extremely impotent.
Combine this body blow with increasing public discomfort over the Iraq War, the scandals which have sprung up from the lead-up to that war and mix in a bit of anger over the handling of Hurricane Katrina, and you’ve got a presidency under siege.
The final straw was Bush’s appointment of the incredibly underqualified Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, which allowed conservatives to know what it feels like to be on the crap end of self-assurance, or to put a more negative spin on it, arrogance which Bush seems to bring with him on any and all major policy decisions. This act of hubris finally drove the president below the 40 percent concrete-floor approval rating, which propped him up during the low moments of the previous five years.
However, while Bush and the rest of the GOP are slumping at the moment, it’s a bit too early for Dems to gloat. Republicans have the nasty habit of being able to bounce back right before an election. Also the idea that the president’s ratings will stay this low for the rest of his term is unrealistic, as Nixon and Truman (the two highest disapproval-rating holders) rebounded eventually.
And yet the playing field appears to be tilted toward the blue team for a change. Maybe we’ll finally be able to win a damn election cycle in 2006.
Michael McLaughlin is a senior history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]