Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Disapproval of Dubya: What Gives?

American Research Group (ARG) reported recently that George W. Bush's job approval rating has dropped to 25 percent, matching his lowest recorded rating.

The survey found that 67 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job, with almost seven in 10 saying the national economy is getting worse.

It's encouraging to see that a majority of Americans disapprove of perhaps the worst president in our history. But here's what I don't get: The survey seems to indicate that many Americans who voted to re-elect Bush in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing.

This baffles me. From my perspective, his first term was horrendous, but I don't see where the second term has been appreciably worse. (How do you get worse than horrendous?) If you thought Dubya's first four years were strong enough to vote for his re-election, I don't see why you would turn against him now.

In 2004, we knew he was running up huge deficits that were going to come home to roost eventually. We knew his administration had given dubious reasons for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq. We knew his economic policies overwhelmingly favored the wealthy over the middle and lower classes, managers over workers, investors over wage earners. We knew the income gap that stagnates our economy was only getting worse on Bush's watch. We knew he supported lax regulation, which favors corporations and harms consumers.

So what's changed since the first term? Oh, I guess we know a little more about corruption in the White House, particularly as it relates to the Justice Department. But how many people really are outraged about that, particularly with the Bushies doing a splendid stonewalling job so far? I guess it looks bad to see folks like Rummy and Rove and a host of others heading for the exits. But that happens in all second terms doesn't it? Iraq has become a debacle, but did any rational person in 2004 doubt that was going to happen? And only a tiny percentage of the population knows anyone who actually has sacrificed, or suffered, because of the war effort. So who cares enough to suddenly disapprove of Dubya, the war president?

This article from Kathleen M. Howley of Bloomberg.com might provide the answer. In 2005, Republicans helped push through a revised bankruptcy code which no longer allows people to walk away from credit-card debt. What's been one of the primary side effects of that change? More housing foreclosures.

Yep, people increasingly are paying off credit-card debt, but they are defaulting on their mortgages. Why? Many young home owners could only afford the American dream with the help of subprime loans, featuring adjustable rates that can reset as often as every six months.

Of course, these risky loans have proliferated largely due to the anti-regulation policies pushed by Republicans--the very folks many young white homeowners vote into office.

Do the GOPers care when young couples, many with children, have to give up their homes? I doubt it. But here's where it gets serious. The surge in foreclosures has cut the value of securities backed by mortgages and led to more than $40 billion of writedowns for U.S. financial institutions.

That caused pain both on Main Street and on Wall Street. The CEOs of both Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have stepped down in the wake of huge writedowns.

Those CEOs will get sweet exit packages. But what about those middle-class home owners who now are going through foreclosures?

They are angry at Dubya. (And I'm sure they don't like going to the pump and paying $3 or more for a gallon of gas.) But didn't we know when Dubya ratcheted up instability in the Middle East by starting a war with Iraq that we were going to pay more for gasoline?

So why again did we re-elect this guy in 2004?

This all reminded me of something I read not long ago in an excellent book, Whistling Past Dixie by Thomas Schaller. At the heart of Schaller's argument is this: Race-based fears and perceptions are so strong in the Deep South that Democrats should write off the region for the next 20 to 25 years and concentrate on the near west and upper midwest states.

To support his theory, Schaller provides statistics on the percentage of white Southern voters who chose George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. I don't have the book in front of me at the moment, but I remember being shocked by the statistics.

The figures for white Southern males, I guess, weren't too surprising because we've all heard of the "angry white guy" syndrome. Southern white males have been trending Republican since Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964, and that trend really picked up steam with Ronald Reagan's "states' rights" speech in 1980 in Philadelphia, MS.

But I was stunned by the numbers for white Southern females. If my memory is correct, Schaller said almost 80 percent of white women in Mississippi went for Bush over Kerry in 2004. The figures for Alabama and South Carolina were in the 65 to 75 percent range.

These were women, folks! I thought they were supposed to be the sensible ones.

The bottom line? Without the support of white Southern men and women, many of them middle class (and quite a few now going through foreclosures), George Bush wouldn't have stood a chance of becoming president.

Regardless of what you might think about Bill Clinton's "zipper issues" (and I think he was incredibly stupid for ever getting anywhere near Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky), the man taught us this: The overall economy is better off when a smart, tough Democrat is in charge. And if you don't believe me, please read Kevin Phillips' The Politics of Rich and Poor, which was published before Clinton was elected (and predicted the country was ready to elect a Democrat in 1992).

Phillips' book is packed with economic lessons that are of vital importance to middle-class Americans. And thinking about his book leaves me with this question: When will white middle-class Americans (in the South and elsewhere) learn that the answers to their problems are not found in the race-based fear that is sold by George W. Bush and numerous other members of the GOP?

For almost 40 years now, Republicans have successfully convinced large numbers of middle-class white folks to vote against their economic interest by feeding them subtle messages that play to race-based fears.

This foreclosure mess is just the latest example of how the middle class has been duped by the GOP fear machine.


Todd Dugdale said...

I think that people stopped give Bush the benefit of a doubt a couple of years ago. He said his tax cuts were going to improve the economy, but they didn't. People have slowly been losing good-paying jobs and are having to take two low-paying jobs instead. And nothing looks like it's going to improve in the near future.

Likewise, in Iraq Bush promised big things from the surge. So far we are trying to get back to the levels of violence we saw before the surge. People really expected the surge would get us OUT of Iraq. Now we are supposed to be giddy that the surge troops are starting to come home and we could possibly be at the same troop levels we saw before the surge...which was way too high for the public's tastes.

Also, we saw years of ridiculously positive remarks about Iraq that really shattered Bush's credibility. Nothing has gone as he said it would, whether it's in Iraq, Afghanistan or New Orleans. And once the credibility was gone, everything became suspect.

So, you are right, people were slow to reject Bush. A big part of that was Bush's innuendo that dissent in time of war was treason, and once people saw repectable and obviously patriotic people dissenting, the floodgates were opened. Americans seem to generally like wars, especially ones that other people fight, but they really don't like LONG wars.

Anyway, I enjoyed your post and hope to check back more often. You have a good writing style and express your thoughts clearly, which is always a plus in the blog world.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely correct. This administration has been absurd. It's one thing for them to lie, but they always lie within the scandal and still will point the finger. If the Dem's take over the White House in '09.. look out. We will have the House locked up for at least two years, Hillary will get us out of this crisis, and Bill may possibly play a major role if the rumors of him being Sec. of State come true.