The No-Confidence Man

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 7, 2008; 12:33 PM

"We're going to come through this just fine," President Bush said yesterday, in a lackluster attempt to be reassuring as the financial markets tanked. "I believe in the long run this economy is going to be just fine."

In the not-so-very long run, of course, Bush will be leaving the White House. But in the meantime, it's hard for a president to restore confidence in the economy when America has lost confidence in the president.

And it doesn't help that just a few days ago, Bush was essentially encouraging panic in order to get Congress to pass his bailout plan. Now the panic has grown to such enormous proportions that it dwarfs even the $700 billion appropriated to rescue the fat cats who precipitated the problem in the first place.

Poll Watch

Paul Steinhauser writes for CNN: "Only 24 percent of those polled approve of President Bush's job performance, an all-time low for a CNN survey." The poll also found that only 26 percent of Americans are confident in Bush's ability to handle the financial crisis.

Gallup reports: "President Bush's job approval rating is at 25% in the latest Oct. 3-5 Gallup Poll, the lowest of the Bush administration, and only three percentage points above the lowest presidential approval rating in Gallup Poll history. . . .

"The 25% approval rating is one point higher than Richard Nixon's lowest job approval rating of 24% measured in the summer of 1974, and it is just three points higher than Harry Truman's all-time Gallup low job approval rating of 22% measured in 1952. No other presidents have had job approval ratings of 27% or lower in Gallup Poll history.

"The current poll recording Bush's low job approval rating was conducted after Congress passed the economic rescue bill on Oct. 3. Americans recognize the economy as the nation's top problem, but apparently, the passage of this bill -- which the Bush administration had heavily advocated -- did nothing to affect Bush's approval ratings. Indeed, only 55% of members of Bush's own party approve of him in the poll, perhaps a reflection of some pushback from conservatives who do not strongly support the economic bill. Nineteen percent of independents and 5% of Democrats approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president."

Last week, in a Washington Post/ABC News poll Bush tied his all-time high disapproval rating of 70 percent. That's the highest disapproval rating of any president since the dawn of modern polling.

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "'He's already paid the approval price for the Iraq war' with ratings that have been dismal for two years, says Richard Eichenberg, a political scientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts. 'Now, in addition, with the horrible economic news . . . some of the blame is obviously being laid to him.'

"White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says the president is focused on the economy and motivated 'by his desire to protect our nation and address our economic needs, not by daily tracking polls.'"

Another Gallup Poll finds that "only 9% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States -- the lowest such reading in Gallup Poll history.

"The previous low point for Gallup's measure of satisfaction had been 12%, recorded back in 1979, in the midst of rising prices and gas shortages when Jimmy Carter was president."

Bush's Words

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "As Wall Street reeled and global markets plunged, President Bush on Monday said the U.S. economy is going to be 'just fine' in the long run. But he cautioned that the massive rescue plan will take time to work.

"On another jittery day in the financial markets, the president made two rounds of unscheduled comments on the economy -- first after meeting with small-business owners in San Antonio, and then at the top of a speech in Cincinnati about judicial nominees."

Here are Bush's remarks in San Antonio: "[I]t's going to take a while. I signed the bill on -- last week, but it's going to take a while to get in place a program that, one, is effective; two, that doesn't waste taxpayers' money -- we don't want to rush into this situation and not have the program be effective. It's going to take a while to restore confidence in the financial system. But one thing people can be certain of is that the bill I signed is a big step toward solving this problem. . . .

"We'll make sure, as time goes on, this doesn't happen again. In the meantime, we got to solve the problem. And that's why people sent me to Washington, D.C. When you see a problem, put a team together and solve it."

Here's Bush in Cincinnati: "I believe in the long run this economy is going to be just fine. It's a resilient economy; it's a productive economy with good workers. This is a reminder that we have been through tough times before, and we're going to come through this just fine."

The Blame Game

Dean Baker writes for Huffingtonpost.com: "According to the Washington Post, after the initial defeat of the bailout package in the House last Monday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson went to see President Bush in the White House. The Post reports that President Bush asked Paulson about 'Plan B.' According to the Washington Post, Paulson told Bush 'there is no Plan B.'

"Of course this was not true. Paulson could have easily designed a bailout plan that was centered on the direct infusion of capital in the banking system... Virtually every economist who has written on the bailout argued that a direct infusion of capital is a far more effective approach to dealing with the financial crisis than the approach outlined by Paulson. . . .

"This alternative approach almost certainly would have passed by an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress since it could easily be structured in a way that ensured that the banks were not being rewarded for their incompetence at the taxpayers' expense. This was a major factor behind the public's outrage over the bailout.

"If the Post accurately described the meeting between Paulson and Bush (there is no source given for this account), then Secretary Paulson badly misled President Bush on the most important economic decision of his presidency."

Tom Frank writes at TPM Cafe: "'Government should be market-based,' George W. Bush once said, and from this supremely bad idea has flowed everything from the lobbyist orgy of the last thirteen years to the outsourcing and privatizing of federal operations to the industry-friendly regulatory agencies that let the current financial crisis happen. The error, obviously, is that markets are not democracies; private businesses answer to those with the most shares--the most money--not to we the people."

Deficit Watch

Stan Collender writes for Roll Call: "Because of [the Troubled Assert Relief Plan], my estimate is that the budget deficit could easily reach or exceed $1 trillion this year. This includes my estimate of a $600 billion deficit before TARP and an additional $400 billion afterwards. A deficit of that size would be between and 6 percent and 7 percent of gross domestic product, a level that hasn't been reached since fiscal 1942-1946 when the United States was fighting and paying for the direct costs of World War II.

"But the bigger cost of TARP may well be less in dollar terms than in making progress in other areas. A $1 trillion, 7-percent-of-GDP deficit likely will chill most of the spending and taxing plans of whoever is elected as hoped-for tax cuts and spending increases have to be delayed."

The Stone Wall Holds

For those hoping to see top White House aides dragged before a congressional committee before the end of Bush's term, it's game over.

Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "A federal appeals court on Monday rejected House Democrats' demands to force two of President Bush's top aides to cooperate with an investigation about the firings of nine federal prosecutors in 2006. . . .

"Monday's ruling blocks a July order by U.S. District Judge John Bates to force former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and current presidential chief of staff Josh Bolten to turn over documents about the controversial firings.

"Democrats say the firings, which led to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last year, were politically motivated. That charge was backed up by an internal Justice Department investigation, which last week found 'substantial evidence that partisan political considerations played a part in the removal of several of the U.S. attorneys.'"

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "The decision is a victory for the Bush administration, which for more than a year has fended off attempts by Democrats and the Justice Department's inspector general to trace the basis for the federal prosecutors' firings to the White House."

And, as she notes, "it remains unclear whether a new Congress will have the political will to chase the issue."

Here's the opinion by the three judges, two of whom were appointed by Republicans.

"The present dispute is of potentially great significance for the balance of power between the Legislative and Executive Branches. But the Committee recognizes that, even if expedited, this controversy will not be fully and finally resolved by the Judicial Branch--including resolution by a panel and possible rehearing by this court en banc and by the Supreme Court--before the 110th Congress ends on January 3, 2009. At that time, the 110th House of Representatives will cease to exist as a legal entity, and the subpoenas it has issued will expire."

Judge David S. Tatel, who was appointed by President Clinton, demurred somewhat, writing: "I am perplexed by the panel majority's willingness to grant a stay while hypothesizing that the expiration of the 110th Congress might moot the case before it is heard on the merits. Never have we granted a stay that would have the effect of irrevocably depriving a party of its victory in the district court. Nor have we authority to do so, for a stay in such circumstances would necessarily cause 'substantial' -- indeed, overwhelming -- harm."

Blogger Dday writes: "This is the crisis of accountability we are facing due to the expansiveness of executive power over decades and consistent enabling from the Congress as they fail time and again to enact basic oversight in real time. This scandal represents the failure of our system, a loophole in the Constitution that extremists have successfully exploited."

Prosecutor Watch

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday "seeking information about his appointment of a federal prosecutor to investigate the forced resignations of US Attorneys and related matters, as called for by a recent Inspector General/Office of Professional Responsibility Report." The letter raised "a series of questions regarding the safeguards being used to ensure the independence of the investigation, and sought information about the powers and responsibilities of the Acting United States Attorney. The Members also urged that there be a public accounting of the investigation at an appropriate time."

The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press editorial board writes: "The appointment last week of Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, provides one last chance to force full disclosure by the Bush administration about partisan political pressure brought to bear in the firing of at least three of the U.S. attorneys."

By contrast, the National Review editorial board writes: "Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey tempted fate by appointing a quasi-independent counsel -- an experienced, respected career prosecutor from outside Washington -- to investigate a non-crime inflated to a scandal by Democrats' demagoguery: the 2006 firing of nine district United States attorneys. We can only hope the result is not another Scooter Libby debacle."

Bush's Judges

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush stepped gingerly into the presidential campaign on Monday, offering an implicit endorsement of Sen. John McCain's judicial philosophy and accusing Democrats of contributing to a 'broken confirmation process' for federal judges. . . .

"In defending the impact of his two appointments to the high court, Bush said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. have produced a 'very different 5-4 majority' that has issued important rulings favorable to conservatives on gun rights and abortion.

"Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group, said that 10 of the nation's 13 federal appellate courts are now 'dominated by conservatives' and that Roberts and Alito are part of a 'conservative juggernaut.'

"'This administration has cemented a transformation of our federal judiciary begun by Ronald Reagan, which has resulted in less freedom, less privacy and fewer constitutional protections,' Aron said."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Legal experts say Mr. Bush has had a profound impact on the judiciary, reshaping it with a conservative tilt that could long outlast his administration. But with the Supreme Court split 5 to 4 on many decisions, both parties agree that it will take another vacancy -- to be filled, presumably, by the next president -- to either seal or undo that legacy.

"Mr. McCain has vowed to follow Mr. Bush's approach in appointing judges, and in previewing Monday's remarks, the White House circulated a document saying Mr. Bush would 'reiterate that America deserves a president who will appoint strong, well-qualified judges.'"

Joe Sudbay writes on Americablog that "yesterday, Bush was on the campaign trail for McCain. The GOPers were trying to be subtle and act like this was a presidential event, not a campaign event. But, let's review facts: Bush was in Ohio. He wasn't talking about the only issue that Americans care about right now, which is the economy. No, Bush was in the swing state of Ohio talking about the need for more right-wing judges."

Law professor Brian Tamanaha blogs that Bush's age-old charge that Democrats appoint "activist" judges is just plain wrong: "If 'activism' means a propensity to invalidate legislation, Justices Scalia and Thomas have voted in favor of striking legislation at almost double the rate of liberal Justices. If 'activism' means discarding or altering precedent (whether explicitly or implicitly), the conservative dominated Supreme Court has done so lately with a startling lack of restraint. If 'activism' means injecting political views into judicial interpretation, it is absurd to suggest that the recent votes of conservative Justices are not predictable on political grounds. . . .

"This old election tactic -- running against activist judges -- is also absurd when one considers that the current Supreme Court, and the federal bench generally, is overwhelmingly dominated by appointees of Republican Presidents (Reagan, Bush I, Bush II)."

Veep Watch

Barton Gellman writes for Slate: "Dick Cheney made his mark by transforming the job of vice president into something very close to deputy president. Now the question is whether Sarah Palin, and to a lesser extent Joe Biden, can carry on his legacy -- or whether America should want them to. The answer to both questions: probably not.

"Cheney brought to office a singular blend of knowledge, experience, discipline, zealotry, and operational talent. The last two are especially rare in combination, and mercifully so. Zealots drive history harder than opportunists do when they get their hands on the wheel. Cheney won room for maneuver from President Bush, and he knew how to use it. The interplay of their dispositions and skills (vision vs. execution, instinct vs. analysis) left even the president unaware of some of the paths that Cheney took."

The Boston Globe editorial board writes: "Vice President Dick Cheney hasn't just wielded unprecedented influence within the executive branch; he has also steered President Bush's administration toward his own philosophy of unfettered presidential power. . . .

"The limits of executive power should be a vital subject for the debate tonight between the two presidential nominees - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. . . .

"At tonight's debate, voters should look out for signs that McCain and Obama understand the violence that the current administration has done to the Constitution."

Apologist Watch

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Bush's decision to attack Iraq was not a distraction from Afghanistan and that saying so is tantamount to arguing that the U.S. shouldn't have fought the Nazis.

"As in many other conflicts in American history, our enemies in this war operate in many geographically distinct theaters. The essence of being a good commander in chief is appreciating the connections among these theaters -- including the adversary's willingness to open new fronts -- rather than obsessing about where the last enemy attack originated.

"This is exactly what President Franklin Roosevelt did in World War II when he chose to dedicate initially the bulk of American resources to the European theater, believing that destroying Hitler's Reich was the most urgent task and that Imperial Japan could be dealt with in turn; history proved him right. Yet, under the Obama-Biden playbook, FDR blundered by getting distracted from the 'real' war -- in the Pacific, where America had been attacked."

Movie Review

Kirk Honeycutt reviews the new Oliver Stone movie on Bush for the Hollywood Reporter: "'W.' is not really a political movie per se; rather it's a movie about a man who went into politics but probably shouldn't have. It's about how a father can misread a son and how a son can suffer in the shadow of a famous dad and how temperament gets molded by events both internal and external."

Where I'll Be This Afternoon

At the Newseum, for the Nieman Foundation's presentation of the first annual I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence to editor John Walcott for the Knight-Ridder bureau's outstanding, against-the-grain reporting in the run-up to war in Iraq.

Cartoon Watch

A Tom Toles sketch on Bush's next step, Pat Oliphant on Palin's hero, and Kevin Kallaugher on the leadership vacuum.

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