Fewer than 365 days until the next presidential election. For candidates, it’s go-time/ crunch-time/ choose-your-own-platitude-time. For a lame-duck president, lest we forget, it’s legacy-burnishing time.
And what better place to start than the front page of The Washington Post, in an article teased on the Post’s home page with the header, “Finally, Better Days for Bush?” Perhaps the question “Finally, Better Days for Americans?” will get A-1 consideration by the Post some other time, but for today readers get Peter Baker’s “analysis” of President Bush’s political fortunes, and how, according to the White House at least, the president is “now more nimble politically.”
That the Post considers this insidery, tactical stuff A1-material is our big-picture gripe (isn’t it more fun to contemplate how Bush “seems to be doing better politically” than to report on how regular people are, you know, actually doing?) But we have others.
The story lead is a laundry list of good news, from White House advisers’ lips to Peter Baker’s ears — and keyboard (emphasis ours):
The war in Iraq seems to have taken a turn for the better and the opposition at home has failed in all efforts to impose its own strategy. North Korea is dismantling its nuclear program. The budget deficit is falling. A new attorney general has been confirmed despite objections from the left.
After more than two years of being buffeted by one political disaster after another, President Bush and his strategists think they may finally be getting back at least a bit of their footing. While still facing enormous challenges, from the crisis in Pakistan to the backlash over children’s health care, they hope Bush has arrested his downward spiral and established a better foundation for the remainder of his time in office.
Yes, Baker has built a story based largely on what White House insiders “think” and “hope.” Moreover, Baker quickly moves from reporting that Bush and strategists “hope Bush has arrested his downward spiral” to taking it as fact that the president is experiencing “shifting political fortunes” (well, the White House said so).
“Yet,” Baker reports,
None of this has particularly impressed the public at large, which remains skeptical that anything meaningful has changed and still gives Bush record-low approval ratings. The disconnect highlights his dilemma heading into the last year of his administration: Can anything short of a profound event repair an unpopular president’s public standing so late in his tenure? Can tactical victories in Washington salvage a wounded presidency?
Can anyone know the answers right now? Well, Baker rounds up some less-than-objective folks who pretend to know.
And… it’s a cliché-off!
“The law of averages is finally turning our way,” says one Bushie, adding something about how soon people “will start to look at the presidency through a different prism.”
“Look, they’ve stopped the bleeding, but they’re not getting well,” says some adviser to Hillary Clinton. Nothing, he says, is “moving the needle right now.”
“[Bush is] really a reinvigorated guy here…It’s noticeable. Things just seem to be moving forward and hitting on all cylinders,” according to Sen. Lindsay Graham, Republican.
“Post-Rumsfeld and the debacle that that was, they had some fences to mend, and I would say to a great degree they have mended them,” said some Republican strategist.
Prisms, needles, cylinders. Convincing stuff, right?
Now, Baker’s piece is not entirely lacking in skepticism. Following some rah-rah-Iraq quote from “White House counselor” Ed Gillespie, Baker writes:
For all that, violence in Iraq has simply returned to where it was roughly a year or two ago and other victories claimed by the White House betray a certain weakness as well as strength…
And then there are those poll numbers.
Only 35 percent of Americans rated [the economy] as good this month, a seven-point drop since spring and the lowest in two years.
So there’s a little window into how Americans think they are doing. Tucked inside an article on how the White House thinks its president is doing.
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.