The Bush bubble bursts

He is now viewed favorably by 29% of the public, which must put him down there with O.J. Simpson. In politics, the best time to kick a man is when he’s already down.

Mickey Kaus gives us a good list of events Democrats fondly hoped would finally pop the Bush popularity balloon: Enron, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, Abramoff, Plame. And he argues, reasonably, that Democrats had better find a red-state-friendly candidate for 2008. (Mark Warner, anyone? On either end of a ticket with Wesley Clark?)

But, as Lieutenant Colombo would say, there’s just one little thing: Bush’s job-performance rating, and his popularity, are now lower than the proverbial whale-dung on the bottom of the sea. You can re-weight the numbers any way you like: 34% job approval is bad, but 29% personal favorability (v. 53% unfavorable) is catastrophic.

Yes, of course the Dubai deal is now weighing Bush down, costing him heavily with his base. That explains a big drop in job performance. But it can’t, by itself, explain a loss of personal popularity, which is usually much less volatile. High personal favorability used to be Bush’s ace in the hole, and it looks like that’s gone, to the likely detriment of Republican candidates in 2006 and 2008. The Bush bubble has finally burst.

And it has burst in part, I submit, because Democrats (over Mickey’s vociferous protests) have been relentlessly &#8212 and, I would say, accurately &#8212 attacking his character for about four years now. If we’d started earlier, hit harder, and been more unified (e.g., had some help from Joe Lieberman and Mickey Kaus), he would now probably be even less popular than he is. The first rule of advertising is repetition. The second rule of advertising is repetition. And the third rule of advertising is repetition.

George W. Bush isn’t just an awful President; he’s also a miserable excuse for a human being. Saying so, back when he was popular, wasn’t an immediate vote-winner, but it paid long-term dividends. Saying it now &#8212 long, loud, and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again &#8212 isn’t just truth-telling, it’s also obviously good politics.

Fortunately for tender liberal consciences but unfortunately for the nation, there’s absolutely no need to distort or exaggerate. In the words of Harry Truman, just tell the truth, and the Republicans will think it’s Hell.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: