L. Neil Smith's
Number 368, May 21, 2006

"Vote For No Incumbent"

Love Me, Hate Me: George W. Bush and the Pursuit of Presidential History
by Jonathan David Morris

Reprinted in TLE

In his 2000 book, The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly wrote: "It is never too late to use the gifts God gave you. Not many things are sadder—or more darned annoying—than someone who says, 'I wish I had started my own woodworking business' (written a book, moved to a farm, gone back to nursing school, etc., etc.)."

I tend to think O'Reilly was right about this. Which is precisely what makes recent comments by First Lady Laura Bush so troubling.

Asked by Chris Wallace on the May 14th episode of Fox News Sunday why President Bush's approval numbers have been so incredibly low lately, Mrs. Bush told viewers, "Well, I don't think they are, and I don't really believe those polls." While certainly entitled to hold this opinion, I don't believe Mrs. Bush is doing her husband any favors by denying the evidence that 60 to 70 percent of Americans think he's an unfortunate failure. In fact, not only isn't she doing her husband any favors, but I'm here to argue she's not doing her countrymen any favors, either.

The Bushes shouldn't dispute George W's low favorability ratings. No. They should embrace them. Why? Well, let me put it this way: In case you haven't noticed, the 43rd President of the United States of America is currently in a unique and historic position to do something accomplished by few of his predecessors. According to the University of Connecticut's Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, President Bush holds the record for the highest approval rating ever recorded by a commander-in-chief: that being 92 percent in the wake of September 11th.

Today, however, after months and months of seemingly endless scandals—from Dubai Ports World and Hurricane Katrina to NSA wiretapping and that Plamegate story that CNN really seems interested in—Bush's approval numbers hover in the low to mid 30s. As of last week, Gallup pollsters found that only 31 percent of Americans approve of how he's doing his job. This means if Bush continues to sink at his current rate, he would be on a pace to surpass the record lows of Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, who registered the lowest approval numbers ever at 22 and 23 percent, respectively. I don't view this as a bad thing. Far from it. I think Bush should consciously aim for this record. To me, it would be a major accomplishment.

I mean, just imagine it. Just imagine a single man—a single president—holding not just the highest approval rating ever, not just the lowest, but both the highest and the lowest. I realize most people would consider this sort of achievement dubious, but why? This is history we're looking at here. This would be like Mike Tyson unifying the heavyweight titles, or Barry Bonds reuniting the career and single-season homerun records. The last president to hold both the highest and lowest approval ratings ever was Harry Truman, with a high of 87 and a low of 22. Bush has already surpassed the high number. Why not shoot for the low one? It will probably be a long time before we elect another man—or woman!—with a chance to pull this off. We should be rooting for this.

In fact, we should be rooting for more than this. We should be rooting for George to go for the Big "One." That's right: Single digits. No president has ever scored an approval rating in the single digits before. No president has ever scored an approval rating below the margin of error, either. I say go for these records. Shoot for the stars. We pay him the big bucks; now give us something to cheer for.

I'm really not being the least bit facetious here. There's precious little Bush can do to improve his standing amongst the American people at this point. And if the Democrats happen to win back Congress this fall, the man and his administration could very well be screwed. Now is the time for Bush to take control of his own destiny. Don't just roll with the punches—decide where they hit you. Tank this presidency. Hard. For us. And for history. Bring the American people together, against a common cause.

If it's true, as Bill O'Reilly put it, that human beings are born with gifts from God, then I don't think George Bush's ability to screw things up and squander seemingly limitless potential is a detriment to his character. I think it's a gift. And I think he should open it.

Laura Bush should stop dividing the American people with talk of her husband's unrecorded popularity. This summer, I'd like to see Bush rally the American people against himself. Learn to stop worrying. Love the bomb.

Jonathan David Morris writes from Philadelphia. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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