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President Bush Job Approval

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Bush's September 10 Approval Ratings

By Robert Tracinski

The conventional wisdom on President Bush's low job approval ratings is that they are his punishment for lack of progress in Iraq.

I don't agree. The actual evidence indicates that Bush is not losing popularity because we're losing the war. He's losing popularity because we're not losing the war. He is unpopular precisely because Americans no longer fear that we are going to be forced into retreat from Iraq, or that terrorists are going to start blowing themselves up on the streets of our cities. Americans now feel complacent enough to focus on other issues--the issues they thought were most important on September 10, 2001.

Too bad they're wrong.

I don't generally opine on the details of the political "horse race," including the mystery of what causes a politician's poll numbers to be a few percentage points higher this month than they were last month. So when it comes to crunching those numbers, I will defer to an expert horse-race handicapper. According to a new poll cited by Dick Morris:

"Asked to describe in their own words what issues they most hear people talking about, 29 percent mentioned gas prices, 13 percent cited Iraq, and only 9 percent reported hearing about immigration around the water cooler or the kitchen table. As incredible--and almost sacrilegious--as it seems, Iraq has faded as the dominant political issue...."

These poll numbers merely confirm what I have already been observing. Newspapers no longer lead with stories about the latest battle in Iraq or the latest bombing, and the political battle over the appointment of a new Iraqi cabinet was covered discretely "below the fold," to use a quaint old print-media figure of speech.

And note the contrast to 2004. Exactly this time two years ago, the news from Iraq was much worse: the US had just abandoned Fallujah to terrorist control, and we were in the middle of a street battle in Najaf against Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Yet in the months that followed, President Bush maintained job-approval ratings well above his current levels and won a decisive re-election. So long as they thought they were facing a choice between perseverance and a disgraceful defeat in Iraq, voters rallied to the presidential candidate who promised to persevere.

I don't think that a fifth of the American people--the number who supported Bush then and disapprove of him now--have changed their minds and want us to lose in Iraq. Rather, I think they turned against Bush precisely because they no longer think defeat is a real possibility. To be sure, people are tired of the way the war is dragging on. They are tired of hearing about IEDs and suicide bombings, and they are very tired of having to hear about the wrangling over Iraqi cabinet posts by a succession of obscure foreigners with unpronounceable Arabic names. But the point is that they now feel they have the option of being tired of the war and directing their attention to other issues.

Dick Morris, for example, advocates going along with the public's delusion that gas prices are today's most important political issue. Thus he uses his column to flog his pet proposal for "a movement toward alternative fuels."

Similarly, in a Washington Post op-ed, disgruntled conservative Richard A. Viguerie cites another poll showing that Bush's approval ratings have dropped most among the conservative Republican "base." After September 11 and through the Iraq War, he explains "conservatives came to see support for the president as an act of patriotism." But now their patience has run out on domestic issues, and Bush's pro-immigration stance "was the tipping point for us."

Iraq is going just badly enough that it can seem like an issue that Bush should be blamed for "mishandling." But it is going just well enough that the American people don't seem to be afraid that we are actually going to lose, either in Iraq or in the War on Terrorism as a whole.

Like I said, too bad they're wrong.

The war needs as much attention now as ever before--if not more--because we still have to face one final showdown with our most important enemy. Iran's theocratic regime is not diverting its attention from the war, it is on the offensive. New reports are moving forward the date by which Iran will have an atomic bomb. In the meantime, Iran is infiltrating Iraq with Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups. And speaking of Iranian infiltration, the New York Post has just reported on a renewed drive by the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group Hezbollah to plant "sleeper cells" of suicide bombers in New York City.

Now is not the time to let the nation's attention drift back to September 10 concerns, because we need to summon all of our efforts to strike at and topple the Iranian regime and stop this final, most dangerous enemy.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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