What the $87 Billion Speech Cost Bush
By Mike Allen
Saturday 20 September 2003
Polls May Indicate That TV Address Eroded President's Support on Iraq
President Bush has often used major speeches to bolster his standing with the public, but pollsters and political analysts have concluded that his recent prime-time address on Iraq may have had the opposite effect -- crystallizing doubts about his postwar plans and fueling worries about the cost.
A parade of polls taken since the Sept. 7 speech has found notable erosion in public approval for Bush's handling of Iraq, with a minority of Americans supporting the $87 billion budget for reconstruction and the war on terrorism that he unveiled.
"If Bush and his advisers had been looking to this speech to rally American support for the president and for the war in Iraq, it failed," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll. He said Bush's speech may have cost him more support than it gained, "because it reminded the public both of the problems in Iraq and the cost."
Since the speech from the Cabinet Room, headlines on poll after poll have proved unnerving for many Republicans and encouraging for Democrats. "Bush Iraq Rating at New Low," said a CBS News poll taken Sept. 15 and Sept. 16. "Americans Split on Bush Request for $87 Billion," said a Fox News poll taken Sept. 9 and Sept. 10. A Gallup poll taken Sept 8 to 10 pointed to "increasingly negative perceptions about the situation in Iraq" and found the balance between Bush's approval and disapproval ratings to be "the most negative of the administration."
A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken from Sept. 10 to Sept. 13 found that 55 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration does not have a clear plan for the situation in Iraq, and 85 percent said they were concerned the United States will get bogged down in a long and costly peacekeeping mission.
Those results were disappointing to supporters who had watched Bush galvanize public opinion with his speech on Iraq at the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, stanching accounts of drift and infighting in his administration. Other addresses that gave Bush a lift included his address to Congress nine days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and his speech to the nation two nights before the Iraq war began last March.
Bush acknowledged this week that he was having trouble getting his message out. He told a roundtable of reporters from the Oregonian of Portland and other newspapers in swing states that he needs "to continue to explain to the American people why it's important we succeed in Iraq."
"I know we've got a construction plan, and we'll continue to explain it," Bush said. "Sometimes it's hard to get through the filter. That's why I gave the address from this room next door the other night, so I could explain directly to the American people what's important. And I will continue to make the case."
Bush, whose aides say he eschews the nitty-gritty of politics, quibbled with the wording in one poll when he was asked about two polls that showed a majority of Americans opposed his $87 billion request to Congress. "If you look at the question, it's kind of a strange question," he said, in what sources called a reference to a question that told respondents how much spending Congress had already approved.
Senior officials at Bush's campaign said the declines in polls were no cause for alarm because they were not driven by the speech but instead were part of a natural decline from historic levels that Bush aides have long predicted.
A campaign official also pointed to a question in the Post-ABC News poll that showed the percentage of respondents who thought the war with Iraq was worth fighting had risen from 54 percent in a poll ending the day of the speech to 61 percent afterward.
White House officials point out that the address had a smaller audience than some other presidential speeches. Nielsen Media Research said the Sept. 7 address was seen by about 31.7 million viewers, compared with 62 million for this year's State of the Union address, 55.8 million for his news conference on March 6 and 73.3 million for his ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"We didn't put all our hopes into one speech," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. "This is going to be a sustained commitment by the administration and the president to educate the public about the stakes in the war and why we are committed to prevailing."
A wide range of Republicans close to the White House said they do not blame the speech for Bush's poll problems, and said they are not panicked about how he will fare in the 2004 election. "The speech had limited objectives," one official said. "The wolves were out, and the speech sucked some of the wind out of that."
But there was widespread agreement among these Republicans that the speech did little if anything to help steady his standing, which had been hurt by a stream of bad news from Iraq and disclosures about the administration's handling of prewar intelligence.
Several of these Republicans complained about the decision to have Bush stand and read from a TelePrompTer instead of showing him seated and speaking more conversationally.
"Can you find anybody on Capitol Hill who thinks, 'Boy, that really gave us momentum?' " one presidential adviser asked. "The setting was a failure. The linguistics were bad. The language was off. It wasn't typical Bush language, and he should have been in front of a group. He isn't at his best discussing the appropriations process."
George C. Edwards III, a Texas A&M political scientist whose book, "On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit," is being published this month, said he studied presidential speeches back to 1981 and found that they rarely produce a statistically significant change in approval ratings. But Edwards said Bush may have hurt his credibility by not acknowledging "that we didn't have a very good plan, and that we've had more setbacks than we anticipated."
"Facing up to that, and then saying we really need to be persistent, would have been more credible, given all the things that are going on and that people are aware of," Edwards said.
Bush is Losing Support on Right
Bob von Sternberg,
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Saturday 20 September 2003
The criticisms of President Bush aren't surprising: He's bungling the war in Iraq; his budget deficits are disastrous; he's trampling civil liberties; his spending plans are misguided.
But the source of those criticisms is: They're increasingly coming from conservatives.
Think tank studies, op-ed columns, talk radio callers and opinion polls show conservatives' disenchantment with Bush's policies and priorities has been climbing, although nowhere near as much as it has among liberals. And although those dismayed conservatives might rally round him in next year's presidential election, his campaign aides are keeping a close eye on the trend.
"I hate to say they've got nowhere else to go, but I think most conservatives will stick with the president," said former Rep. Vin Weber, who is co-chair of Bush's reelection campaign in Minnesota and four other states. "Conservative voters across the country will conclude backing the president is imperative. Of course, it's impossible not to have a few dissident voices."
One of those voices belongs to Daniel Cragg, a college student from Eagan who in June launched a Web site called conservativesagainstbush.com "to propound the conservative principals this administration has forsaken."
The site has been averaging about 200 hits a day, Cragg said. "The idea is to get the word out about how far off track he's gotten," he said. "A lot of people are mad about what's going on."
Evidence of grumbling on the right can be gleaned from recent polls.
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll this month found that 31 percent of self-described conservatives gave Bush a thumbs down for the way he's doing his job. That was up from 9 percent who disapproved in April, days after the fall of Baghdad. The current disapproval rate among conservatives is the highest the Minnesota Poll has recorded in Bush's presidency.
Conservatives' displeasure has been growing nationally too. A recent ABC News poll found that 23 percent of conservatives nationwide disapprove of the job Bush is doing, up from 14 percent in April.
Such sentiments (along with considerably higher disapproval ratings by moderates and liberals) shouldn't be surprising, Weber said. "We've come off a summer of difficult news, what with the economy and the post-war," he said. "If those things were to continue and deepen, you'd start to worry. But the opposite is true."
Besides, no president satisfies every member of his political base all the time.
Minnesota conservatives' disapproval of Bush's performance has seesawed, from as low as 3 percent immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks to 18 percent 10 months later. (And it's a bipartisan phenomenon: Witness the fact that a month after Bill Clinton became president, 19 percent of liberal Minnesotans disapproved of his performance.)
"Every successful Republican president, including Ronald Reagan, ends up criticized by a number of voices on the right who complain he's not pure enough," Weber said. "Any compromise is unacceptable to them, but it's impossible to govern the country with rigid ideological principles."
A similar point was made by Mitch Pearlstein, who heads the Center for the American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based conservative think tank. "There are indeed conservatives out there who will complain about any officeholder who's not doing precisely what they want him to do," he said. "These are early seeds of disgruntlement, but they're still very faint."
Conservatives universally praise Bush's relentless tax cutting but have little good to say about the growth in government programs, spending and budget deficits.
Pointing to this year's projected $455 billion budget shortfall and proposals for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Club for Growth president Stephen Moore wrote this month: "Imagine that Al Gore and a Democratic Congress were doing all this profligate spending. Would conservatives stand for it? . . . Fiscal sanity is in retreat, under a solidly Republican regime."
Federal spending last year grew by 7.9 percent, the highest in a dozen years. Much of that is because of increased military and homeland security spending in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but a double-digit increase in Medicaid spending has contributed to the growth.
Cato Institute president Edward Crane fumed to the New York Times this summer that Bush's "fiscal record is appalling -- spending is out of control. The fiscal record of the Bush administration makes Clinton look downright responsible."
Research recently published by the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think-tank, showed that the true size of the federal workforce stood at 12.1 million in October 2002, up from 11 million in October 1999.
Despite the Bush administration's claim that it has shrunk the federal workforce, reductions have been more than offset by "off-budget" jobs paid for with federal contracts and grants, the study found.
An analysis last spring by the Cato Institute compared spending during the first terms of Bush and Reagan and found that spending grew in 11 categories under Bush and four under Reagan. While spending on education, training, employment and social services shrunk by 32.6 percent under Reagan's watch, it has grown by 26.8 percent under Bush's.
Assessing Bush's record, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan recentlywrote:
"The Bush administration is actually a big government liberal administration on fiscal policy. It likes spending money; it takes on big projects; it's quite content to borrow 'til the fiscal cows come home."
Some conservatives have blasted Bush for his quiet acquiescence in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent ratifications of affirmative action and gay rights. Others have complained that he has not attempted to restrict the number of abortions performed in the United States.
Conservatives of a libertarian bent have railed against the Patriot Act and what they see as its threat to trample civil liberties. And conservatives with isolationist beliefs have blasted the war and occupation of Iraq.
Prominent among these is erstwhile Republican and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Now editor of the American Conservative magazine, his lead editorial in the current issue concludes that "the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror has gone terribly, terribly wrong."
Twin Cities talk show host Jason Lewis has occasionally gotten an earful from conservatives fed up with one or another of Bush's policies.
"It's uneasiness, not open revolt," he said. "There's a limit to conservatives' patience, but I don't think it's going to be a huge problem in the election."
In many ways, Lewis said, Bush's domestic policies resemble his father's, who was famously unable to hold onto conservatives' allegiance.
The saving grace for the younger Bush is his tax-cutting zeal and his war on terror, Lewis said. "Without the specter of war right now, Bush would be getting many of the same criticisms his dad got," he said. "Plenty of criticisms on the spending side are warranted, but the war on terror trumps all of that."
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