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Bush's problem is with his base

April 02, 2008
There's a dirty little secret about President Bush's poll numbers. Not everyone who disapproves of his job performance disapproves for the same reasons.

The inclination is to think the entire 67 percent who disapprove of the president's record believe he is a war-mongering, inept Neanderthal being led by the nose by Karl Rove.

Well, that's not the case. His poll numbers are down, more than anything, because of discontent among his base.

There are certainly a fair number who believe Bush is the worst president in history, but there are also a considerable number of principled conservatives who check the disapproval column for different reasons, reasons that are polar opposite of those of the left.

Examples include Bush's stance on illegal immigration, his mishandling of the Iraq War (the left doesn't believe the United States should have gone there, but many on the right believe it was the correct move, but want to win and are frustrated that it's taken until the past year to begin doing so), and his willingness to allow the federal budget to grow (he recently proposed the country's first-ever $3-trillion budget, just five years after proposing its first $2-trillion budget). Contrary to the talking heads, the latter, coupled with the Administration's inability to aggressively fight and win the war at the time, is the reason why Republicans lost control of Congress two years ago.

Despite being frustrated by the president's lack of a conservative resumé, Bush has still done several good things in the eyes of conservatives. They just wish he was more conservative. If he was, those on the far left would like him even less, but his overall approval numbers would go up as support from his base would increase.

So, what has Bush done that's been good and what do conservatives wish he would do?

First and foremost is the fact that the country and its interests haven't been attacked since 9/11. Some say that's a red herring. They say the country wasn't attacked before and wouldn't have been after. However, facts tend to be stubborn things.

Attacks since 1990:

•1993 — World Trade Center bombing, killing six.

•1995 — Bombing in Saudi Arabia killed five U.S. military personnel.

•1996 — Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia bombing, killing 19 U.S. military personnel.

•1998 — U.S. embassies in Africa bombing, killing 224.

•2000 — USS Cole bombing, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

•2001 — Sept. 11 attacks, killing 3,000-plus.

Only after one of those events did the U.S. government send a direct and strong response that the United States will not stand idly by for more attacks.

Some people say they were in favor of going into Afghanistan because the Taliban were providing safe haven for al-Qaeda, but that going into Iraq was a huge mistake. I disagree.

If the president hadn't acted based on the available intelligence — the same intelligence that led then-President Bill Clinton in December 1998 to order military action against, in his word's, Iraq's "nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors" — and Iraq had WMDs and used them against this country or its interests, the same people who were against the war would be calling for President Bush to be strung up for failing to take action — and rightfully so.

Due to an improved strategy, thanks largely to General Petraeus, real progress is being made in Iraq. Not only is that evident by the lack of media attention the war is garnering nowadays, but it is evidenced by the responses of the Iraqi people themselves. A survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and Japanese broadcaster NHK showed:

•55 percent of Iraqis say their own life is going well, compared to 39 percent in August 2007.

•62 percent say local security is good, up from 43 percent in August.

•46 percent expect Iraq to be better in a year, compared to just 23 percent seven months ago.

That's very good news. Improved security means improved attitudes, which makes sustained political progress — the definition of victory — achievable.

And, if that happens, the president's job approval numbers will go up, because his base will be pleased.

President Bush is also criticized for his handling of the economy, particularly the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Until January of this year, the country had 40 straight months of job growth, resulting in more than 8.2 million new jobs. That's not too shabby considering the country started seeing negative job growth in 2000, when President Clinton was in office, and then faced the economic ramifications of the Sept. 11 attacks of the next year.

A quick look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site shows that the average hourly earnings, since the ship was righted in 2003, have increased each month at a level about equal, if not greater, than in the 1990s.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget shows that the United States took in almost $2.6 billion in tax revenue in 2007. That's the most of any year in history and $800 million more than just 10 years ago, despite the tax cuts. This makes a pretty good argument that tax cuts actually increase revenue because it spurs investment.

But, who is paying those taxes? According to the IRS, the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39.8 percent of the federal income taxes in 2005 (the last year data is available), while the top 5 percent paid 59.7 percent, top 10 percent paid 70.3 percent, top 25 percent paid 86 percent and top 50 percent paid 96.9 percent.

So, why is the economy currently in the wake of a recession?

The country has some real financial problems that it must address: growing entitlements, including Social Security; health care costs; and energy prices, to name just a few. The value of the dollar is sinking, and that's just going to continue to drive up the latter, as investors put their money into solid commodities, like gold and, yes, oil, whose price is already inflated by increased demand from developing countries like China and India.

Housing values have fallen because of the number of foreclosures. Some lenders have been unscrupulous, but some of the affected homeowners also have to take blame — at least part of it. If a person is going to stay in a home more than a few years, it makes no sense to take out a loan with a variable interest rate. What seems good today can go bad in a hurry.

Failure to address the solvency of the entitlements and make health care affordable by creating a more consumer-driven market (i.e. don't trade the problems of today for the problems offered by universal health care) are also having an adverse effect on the economy, as the balance sheets of small businesses and individual paychecks are being stretched.

Couple that with increased spending that may have had virtuous intent (i.e. Medicare Part D and the Department of Homeland Security) and that which didn't (pork projects have been funded at record levels) and you end up with a mess.

That's why Bush's GOP was told to take a hike in the midterm elections. That — not the tax cuts, which actually have helped keep the situation from becoming worse — is why the president's job approval numbers in regards to the economy are down among his base.

While conservatives may feel that the president hasn't gone far enough in some areas, in others, they're pleased.

Social conservatives generally are happy with the president's stance on abortion. He has appointed two judges — John Roberts and Samuel Alito — who appear to be strict constructionists — to the Supreme Court. The Roberts Court has already upheld challenges to the ban on partial birth abortions that Bush signed into law during his first term.

It's not an overturn of Roe v. Wade, but it's a step in the right direction. It outlaws the inhumane procedure, whereby a doctor delivers an intact baby, feet first, until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor then pierces the base of the baby's skull with surgical scissors, and then inserts a catheter into the opening and sucks out the brain to kill the child.

In addition, the president, on the first day of his first term, reinstated a funding ban for international family planning programs run by agencies that also provide abortion services. Later that year, the Bush Administration prohibited federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos. For those who believe life begins at conception, that's huge.

Bush should also be commended for doing more to help to help the people of Africa than any other president. Those aren't my words, those are from Bob Geldof, organizer of the 1985 Live Aid concerts that raised more than $150 million to fight African famine, the same activist Bob Geldof who isn't exactly known for conservative leanings.

Before the Bush-initiated President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs, having to purchase the medication themselves. Now, 1.3 million Africans are on the drugs, which are provided free of charge.

According to a diary written in Time magazine by Geldof, who traveled with the president to Africa earlier this year, the United States contributes one-third of the funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The program treats another 1.5 million.

The United States also provides 50 percent of all food aid to Africa, and Bush just announced a $350 million fund that will provide even more assistance to combat disease.

"This is the triumph of American policy really," Geldof is reported saying in The Washington Times. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."

He added: "What's in it for (Bush)? Absolutely nothing."

Not many Americans know about the president's extraordinary efforts in Africa. However, therein, lies much of the president's problem.

Not a gifted communicator, Bush has allowed himself to be defined by his critics. That's not to say he hasn't made mistakes — he has, just as every president has — but he's also done good. And it should be acknowledged.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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