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William Rivers Pitt: Punxsutawney Karl

Punxsutawney Karl

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 14 October 2005

Let's take a look at some numbers, shall we?

"For the first time," reports the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "more people say George W. Bush's presidency will be judged as unsuccessful than say it will be seen as a success, a poll finds. People were inclined to say Bush's policies have made things worse on a wide range of issues such as the federal budget deficit, the gap between rich and poor, health care, the economy, relations with US allies, the tax system and education. Republicans give the president mixed reviews in many of these areas. Almost half of Republicans said Bush's policies have made the deficit worse and just 12 percent say he has improved that situation."

That last bit about Republicans giving Bush mixed reviews is especially unnerving for the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania, and is buttressed by a poll conducted by, of all things, the FOX News Channel. "As has been the case for much of his presidency," reports FOX, "Bush's approval rating shows a huge partisan gap; however, this is the first time of his presidency that approval among Republicans has dropped below 80 percent."

When GOP partisans start walking away from this administration, as they seem to be for the first time, you can almost hear the Fat Lady working her way through the do-re-mi's.

Whole swaths of the electorate are abandoning this White House en masse. The single most profound swing comes within the African-American community, which gave Bush a 51% approval rating in the months after 9/11. Well, you can take those chips off the felt. "In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling," writes Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, "President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The drop among blacks drove Bush's overall job approval ratings to an all-time low of 39 percent in this poll. By comparison, 45 percent of whites and 36 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Bush is doing."

Two percent. That's within the margin of error, so it is entirely reasonable to suspect that not one single African American in the country approves of the job Bush and his crew are doing. For an administration that had been attempting to make electoral inroads into this voting bloc, and had spent a good deal of money and time to do so, that tiny little number represents a staggering body blow.

There are a pile of reasons for this meltdown. The nomination of Harriet Miers to a Supreme Court post has ripped the conservative community right down the middle. Bush partisans, who would likely approve of the nomination of Ba'al if Bush tapped him and said nice things about him, are standing pat. But the old-schoolers are experiencing a crisis of confidence. Conservative columnists David Brooks and George Will have been especially enthusiastic with the whipping stick. They see this nomination for what it is: a sure-fire "Yes" vote for Bush on any case that comes to that high bench, despite the fact that Miers has never served as a judge and has all the apparent intellectual incisiveness of a cucumber sandwich.

"I don't know if by mere quotation," wrote Brooks on Thursday, after reviewing some of Miers written work, "I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers's prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided. It's not that Miers didn't attempt to tackle interesting subjects. But she presents no arguments or ideas, except the repetition of the bromide that bad things can be eliminated if people of good will come together to eliminate bad things. Throw aside ideology. Surely the threshold skill required of a Supreme Court justice is the ability to write clearly and argue incisively. Miers's columns provide no evidence of that."

Throw aside ideology? In a fight over a Supreme Court nominee? When Republicans start talking like that, there is blood on the moon.

It is even within the realm of possibility that Ms. Miers will withdraw her nomination entirely. If she decides to sit down before the Senate, it is probable that she will be asked a number of questions on the minutiae of constitutional law. This nominee, who has no experience in the law whatsoever, will come across as being as bumbling and uninformed as the lamest first-year law student in the country. Who wouldn't want to do that before a bank of cameras?

There is Katrina and its aftermath. There is Majority Leader Frist under investigation, and former Majority Leader DeLay under indictment. There is Iraq, which grinds on interminably and which killed three more American soldiers on Friday. There is the coming winter and the looming explosion of heating prices; reports suggest that heating costs will increase by 70% as the snow starts to fall, translating into about an extra $350 on bills for anyone with natural gas heat, with similar bad news for anyone who has oil or electric heat. On top of that is the rise of the I-word: "US consumer inflation surged at the fastest pace in more than 25 years in September, rising a steeper-than-expected 1.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday," reports Agence France-Presse.

After all that, or course, is the giant hammer hanging over the White House. Punxsutawney Karl stepped out of the Grand Jury room on Friday and saw his shadow, so it looks like we will have at least six more weeks of scandal. The inquiry into the deliberate outing by administration officials of a covert CIA agent as a means to effect political revenge, according to the New York Times, "has swept up a dozen or more other officials who have been questioned by investigators or have testified before the grand jury, and, should it lead to the indictment of anyone at a senior level, it has the potential to upend the professional lives of everyone at the White House for the remainder of Mr. Bush's second term."

"The result, say administration officials and friends and allies on the outside who speak regularly with them," continues the Times, "is a mood of intense uncertainty in the White House that veers in some cases into fear of the personal and political consequences and anger at having been caught in the snare of a special prosecutor. And given how badly things have been going for Mr. Bush and his team on other fronts - a poll released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center put his approval rating at 38 percent, a new low - they hardly have deep reserves of internal enthusiasm or external good will to draw on."

They're scared. They should be.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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