Buyer remorse is setting in with Bush presidency
   by Gene Lyons

Even before George II met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank
predicted exactly how the talk would go.

    "It will be cordial and possibly frank," Milbank wrote. "It will be substantive and quite possibly successful.
It will be good, positive, constructive and very likely strong."
    No Tarot card readers or 1-900 TV psychics were involved. A quick search of the newspaper's database sufficed to show that no matter who George W. Bush talks to, the White House invariably describes the meetings as "warm," "candid," "positive," etc.

    But nobody could have predicted that at their joint press conference, Mr. Personality would describe Putin in terms more appropriate to the Oprah Winfrey show.

    "He's an honest, straightforward man who loves his country," Bush gushed. "He loves his family. We share a lot of values. . . . I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

    His soul, no less. It'd be interesting to know if Putin thinks he has one. In an impressive display of the White House discipline pundits so admire, nobody laughed out loud. Next day, George II's new best friend, who began his career as a KGB operative around the time Bush was branding pledges at the Deke house, delivered a strong, candid message of his own: If the United States dumps the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty in favor of a missile defense shield, Russia will consider every arms control treaty of the past 30 years defunct and install multiple warheads on its ICBMs.
    Putin didn't have to say that exporting Russian nuclear technology could do wonders for his country's trade balance with China.  Nations like Syria, Iran, Libya and Iraq might also be in a buying mood.

    With Democrats controlling the Senate, however, none of these dire events appears likely to happen. Instead, the real significance of George II's farcical interlude with the Russian president was the laughter from the cheap seats. Once again, the public has gotten far ahead of the Washington pundits. They didn't need Sen. Jesse Helms to tell them that Bush's "excessively personal endorsement" of the cunning Mr. Putin made him look more like the Tail Twister at a Lions Club luncheon than the "leader of the free world." The boy was in way over his head, and judging by the look in Bush's eyes, even he knew it.
    A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll shows that the more people see of George II, the less they think of him.

    "Far from giving him a political lift, Mr. Bush's European tour, though it drew largely upbeat news coverage, did not appear to help him in the eyes of the public," wrote Richard L. Berke and Janet Elder. "More than half of Americans say they are uneasy about Mr. Bush's ability to tackle an international crisis, and more people than not say he is not respected by other world leaders."

    Most of the polling was done before Bush's meeting with Putin, which is already starting to look like one of those defining presidential moments--like Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech or George I's "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. We shall see.
    But right now, all the political indicators for George II are down. His overall positive rating stands at 53 percent, down seven points from March. Broadly, Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

    "The poll found that a majority of Americans seem disenchanted by what they view as Mr. Bush's inattention to matters they care most about," the Times reported. "And there is a substantial gap between his stand and theirs on many of those issues, including the patients' bill of rights, education, energy, the environment, raising the minimum wage, prescription drugs and judicial appointments. . . . [O]n nearly every critical measure tested, he has shown no improvement in recent months, and often has lost ground."

    This with largely favorable media coverage and the studious unwillingness of the press to dwell on unpleasantries like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's ethical conflicts that would have provoked veritable typhoons of outrage under Bill Clinton.
    Campaigning as a "different kind of Republican" and a "compassionate conservative," then moving sharply rightward on almost every issue--almost as if he and his advisers thought there was never going to be another election--has hurt Bush badly. People also appear to be drawing the kinds of negative personal conclusions that are hard to reverse.

    "Forty-nine percent of Americans say Mr. Bush can be trusted to keep his word; 40 percent say he cannot," the Times reported. That's down seven points in six months. The number of Americans who think Bush has "strong qualities of leadership" is down to 54 percent, 14 points lower than when he was governor of Texas.
    Bush does even worse on policy than personality. According to the poll, his foreign policy is approved by 47 percent, his environmental policies by 39 percent and his energy plan by 33 percent. Almost two-thirds say Bush and Vice President Cheney are too close to big oil to be trusted about energy issues. More than 60 percent believe that the so-called energy crisis is a hoax engineered by energy companies as an excuse to drive up prices.

    On individual issues of great importance to the kinds of citizens who actually vote on election day, heavy majorities favor Democratic rather than Republican ideas. The poll found more anxiety about the future of Social Security than at any time in
20 years. Three-quarters want Medicare to pay for prescription drugs, even if premiums rise. Almost two-thirds say coverage should be universal, not limited to the poor. Nine out of 10 favor raising the minimum wage.

    Even with the Washington press clique openly taking sides, it was always hard to understand how a strong minority
voted for Bush and against peace and prosperity. Scarcely six months into his term, however, it looks as if buyer remorse
is definitely setting in.

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