Is Good News for Bush Good News?

The media bandwagon effect is in high form today, with several articles out on the “things are looking up for Bush” meme.

Spate of Good News Gives White House a Chance to Regroup – Peter Baker, WaPo, p. A1

In a White House that had virtually forgotten what good news looks like, the past few weeks have been refreshing. A Republican won a much-watched special congressional election. President Bush recruited a Wall Street heavy hitter as Treasury secretary. U.S. forces killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And now the architect of the Bush presidency has avoided criminal charges.

In Iraq Visit, Bush Seizes On A Step Forward – Sheryl Gay Stolberg, NYT, p. 1.

In visiting Baghdad on Tuesday, President Bush was trying to deliver a carefully calibrated message to Americans: that Iraq and the administration’s strategy there appear to be turning a corner, but troops will not be withdrawn anytime soon.

[…]

Since the killing last week of the jihadist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, polls have shown some tentative signs of a reversal in the slide in public support for the war. Some foreign policy analysts, even those critical of Mr. Bush, see glimmers of hope.”It’s been a steady drumbeat of disastrous tactical news, so this is a very significant event,” said one of those critics, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired Army commander, referring to the formation of the new government. “This is the decisive turning point, not whacking Zarqawi.”

Bush’s Visit To Baghdad Signifies Upturn In His Political Fortunes [$] – John D. McKinnon and Yochi J. Dreazen, WSJ, p. 1.

President Bush, caught for months in a losing battle for public approval, suddenly is scoring gains on several fronts, raising a far-reaching question: Is he setting the stage for a political recovery?

Mr. Bush Tuesday sought to capitalize on progress on the most vital front of all, Iraq, making an unannounced visit to Baghdad to hail the formation of a new government there. At the same time, another cloud lifted in Washington as defense lawyers announced that top White House political adviser Karl Rove won’t be indicted in an investigation into the leaking of a Central Intelligence Agency agent’s identity.

Along with other recent good news, the developments hold at least the prospect that Mr. Bush’s political slide has hit bottom. The president has pulled himself off the mat before, in 2002, when Democrats expecting to score the usual midterm election gains against the president’s party actually lost seats, and in 2004, when he trailed Democrat John Kerry by a significant margin only to roar back and win re-election.

Bush is on a bit of a roll after months of unrelenting bad news – Ron Hutcheson and William Douglas, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Tuesday’s news that presidential adviser Karl Rove won’t face prosecution lifted a cloud over the White House and gave President Bush another reason to hope that his worst days are behind him.

As Bush basked in cheers from U.S. troops during a secret visit to Baghdad, his closest adviser was back at work in the White House free from worry about a possible indictment in the CIA leak case. All in all, it was another good day for the president, who finally has a few reasons to celebrate after a long string of setbacks that battered his popularity.

The developments added to the optimism that swept through the White House after last week’s slaying of terrorist chief Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq and the completion of a new Iraqi government.

In addition, a Republican won the June 6 special election to fill the San Diego congressional seat left vacant by former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s bribery conviction, reviving hope among Republicans that congressional elections in November may not doom them. Bush’s recent appointments of Josh Bolten as White House chief of staff and Henry Paulson as treasury secretary also won widespread praise.

“All of a sudden the clouds broke and the sun started to shine,” said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman. “After six months of thunderstorms and rain it feels pretty good.”

Good Run Buoys GOP – Many Now Express Cautious Optimism [$] — Ben Pershing and Erin P. Billings, Roll Call.

After months of negative headlines and dismal poll numbers, House and Senate Republicans are taking the past two weeks’ run of good news as evidence that the party’s political fortunes may be on the rebound.

Despite these ledes, all (except perhaps Roll Call; I’m not a subscriber) then broke into a chorus of “It probably won’t last” or “It won’t be enough.” Yet, for even many bloggers on the moderate Left, this coverage is maddening.

Kevin Drum is the first to throw a wet blanket:

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. The GOP barely won a congressional election in a district that’s 60% Republican. After a year of looking, the White House finally persuaded someone to become Secretary of the Treasury. They killed a terrorist they could have killed three years ago if they’d wanted to. And Bush’s top aide has “avoided criminal charges.”

Steve Benen says, “Don’t call it a comeback,” offering a list of reasons that overlaps and expands on Drum’s.

Joe @ AmericaBlog calls it “gross” and contends “We all know — even most reporters in the traditional media know — that the Bush administration has been a disaster on every front, including Iraq. They haven’t had a policy, they just spin. We have seen that they can’t and don’t do government, but they can do politics.”

Playing it down the middle, Joe Gandleman contends, “If the Bush team is not yet totally back in stride, they do seem to be getting up from a series of huge fumbles. And, as always, they will go on the offensive (Rove already has). ”

That strikes me about right. Are recent events enough to get the President up from the mid-20s in public approval to the 50-plus range? Not hardly. Still, the idea that these things don’t constitute good news for the president is odd.

Yes, Zarqawi could have been “gotten” years ago, before he emerged as the force he became. The facts as they were known in 2003 were weighed and Bush made a decision regretable in hindsight. Ditto, in spades, Clinton and bin Laden. It’s unfair, though, to criticize people for not knowing the future. And it’s undeniable that last Wednesday’s strike was at least a minor blow for the good guys and a rather major propaganda victory, if perhaps short lived.

Yes, the Cunningham district has long been a GOP stronghold. Yet, they were in danger of losing it because of Cunningham’s personal malfeasance and the stink of other Republican scandals, real and perceived. Surely, the Democrats would have touted Busby’s defeat as a huge victory? Does it not follow, then, that his victory is, well, a victory?

I agree that the Rove non-indictment is a low bar. I’d have fired him long ago for a variety of reasons. Still, had he been indicted, would that have been a non-event or a major blow for the administration? If the latter, one would think the converse true.

I’m not sure that the appointment of a new Treasury Secretary belongs on the list; nobody outside Wall Street much cares. Still, momentum is momentum. (And lists of four are more impressive than of three, presumably, if one is looking to buttress one’s meme.) And putting a fresh coat of paint on things helps change perceptions sometimes.

One could argue, really, that the trend actually started much earlier, with the appointment of a new Chief of Staff and Spokesman. Whether they’ll ultimately be able to help right the ship is unclear. I still maintain that events on the ground in Iraq will have more influence on the president’s poll numbers than any domestic policy moves.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bhoe says:

    Hopefully Bush will start some military action with Iran in early September–that’s the best time to introduce a new product.

    This way we can play the patriotism card big-time in the lead-up to midterm elections and the Dems won;t have a chance.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Why is it so difficult to be gracious and magnanimous and still be engaged in politics these days? This is not a rhetorical question—I’d really like to know.

  3. Toobs says:

    There has been, for the last 3-4 years, a fifth column in America that at best does not want us to win in Iraq, and at worse actively sides with terrorists.

    Just look at the reaction to Zarqawi’s killing.

    The good news is, more and more normal people are figuring this out. The Democratic Party has to actively get rid of these fifth-columnists in order to win elections in the future.

  4. Don Surber says:

    What’s good for America is good for the prez. It’s his war. It will be won. History will cheer him

  5. Anderson says:

    Yet, for even many bloggers on the moderate Left, this coverage is maddening.

    First Bithead, now JJ? Could we have a quote from one of these mod-Left bloggers that demonstrates their being “maddened”?

    Sheesh. More like “utterly unsurprised by the SCLM.” The media gets bored with any trend and ultimately decides to reverse it, often successfully.

  6. TallDave says:

    Good or bad news, it doesn’t really matter.

    Newsweek Headline:

    “How We Got Zarqawi”

    Now try to imagine an alternate universe where it said:

    “How Bush Got Zarqawi”

    Same thing happened with Saddam, and in reverse for all setbacks, real, perceived or fabricated (did “we” flush that Koran? Of course not!).

    Evan Thomas’ stated 15% advantage is hard-earned.

  7. TallDave is right.

    I am reminded of a quote about defense attorneys who say to their clients “We won” when they get the charges dismissed, but say “You lost” when they can’t manage an acquittal.

  8. Dean Esmay says:

    I think the current period of acrimony probably is more the norm than the more genteel bipartisanship of certain other eras. The country is split very very narrowly right now, and so bipartisanship doesn’t have a whole lot of appeal.

    However, as Larry Sabato will tell you, a majority of 51% is a more stable governing majority than one of 60% or more.

  9. steve sturm says:

    As I posted, what a slander Drum throws around, that we could have gotten Zarqawi three years ago… if only we had wanted to. What a slap to the soldiers who have spent three years trying to nail him. Way to tell the families of those killed and wounded by Zarqawi that it was all Bush’s fault, that they could still have their loved ones… if only Bush had cared enough to get Zarqawi.

    And he is supposed to be the sensible one on the left side these days?

  10. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I don’t mean to suggest that they are insane. I was using “maddening” in this sense:

    mad·den·ing adj.

    1. Tending to anger or irritate: a maddening delay at the airport.

    Drum’s tone strikes me as merely exasperated; Benen and, especially, Joe strike me as quite angry.

  11. Anderson says:

    How Bush Got Zarqawi

    ???

    Okay, sport: how *did* “Bush” get Zarqawi?

    And if Bush “got” Zarqawi, then do we give Bush credit for passing up Zarqawi before the invasion? When it really would’ve been his call whether to hit the guy?

    I’m beginning to grasp who bought all those “Mission Accomplished” Bush dolls. The guy’s the last action hero, evidently.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Steve: Drum is referring to this report that Bush passed up a shot at him because of regional political considerations.

    Anderson: I agree that Bush doesn’t deserve much of the credit for the intelligence and other operational issues that “got” Zarqawi. Then again, he doesn’t deserve much of the blame for lack of same vis-a-vis Bin Laden and he gets plenty of that.

  13. Anderson says:

    Didn’t have “insane” in mind, JJ, just “extremely angry.”

    I realize these things are subjective, but I can’t find a plaubibly angry word ANYWHERE in Gandelman’s post. And Joe at AmericaBlog isn’t saying anything that Dems don’t say or think every day–I would have to see the “angry” part quoted.

    I’m taking this seriously, because (1) you are a smart guy and (2) it’s curious to me how Dems are regularly perceived as “maddened,” “angry,” etc. by Repubs when the Dems are saying “this presidency is an utter failure.” Like, one would have to be emotionally whipped up to think something like that.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Gandelman was a transitional point from the three Lefty examples. He’s “The Moderate Voice,” after all. If you read that paragraph in conjunction with the one that follows, you see that I’m agreeing with him:

    Playing it down the middle, Joe Gandleman contends, “If the Bush team is not yet totally back in stride, they do seem to be getting up from a series of huge fumbles. And, as always, they will go on the offensive (Rove already has).”

    That strikes me about right. Are recent events enough to get the President up from the mid-20s in public approval to the 50-plus range? Not hardly. Still, the idea that these things don’t constitute good news for the president is odd.

    (Note: About to leave work and have an engagement this evening, so the conversation will be abandoned on my end for a few hours.)

  15. jimmy says:

    Ahhh… this is just another Rove Rope-a-Dope.

    They let the Dems and media dance and sing for 9 months believing in their win and then all the sudden Bush and Rove simply point out the irrefutable facts that things are no where near as bad as we’ve been led to believe.

    His critics’ angst and faux virtuosity is the fuel that carries him and those he supports through each election cycle.

  16.         ‘Bush could have gotten Zarqawi years ago.’  True.  But note what they aren’t saying: ‘Bush should have killed Zarqawi in 2002 or 2003, regardless of the consequences.’

            As the cited report makes clear, Bush was trying to put together a coalition with France and the rest of the Axis of Weasels to support the removal of Saddam.  It was feared that attacking Zarqawi in Iraq because he might commit terrorist acts would ruin the chances for a coalition.

            Note another thing not not said: ‘There was never any hope for a coalition, as we said at the time, so the U.S. should have just dropped the idea of attacking Iraq, or gone ahead on its own, without any consideration for any other nation’s concerns.’

            Finally, note the contradiction between ‘They could have got Z. years ago,’ and ‘They got Z., but it really won’t make any difference.’ This is because the REAL position of those making this phony argument is ‘We wanted Saddam to stay in power in Iraq, we wanted sanctions to fail, and we wanted him to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stocks, and to acquire nuclear weapons. That way, he could threaten the United States and Isreal, both of which we hate and despise.’

            FEH!

  17. Dave says:

    “I’d have fired him [Rove] long ago for a variety of reasons.”

    Really? What reasons?

    Like Cheney, most of the people who object to Rove think he is evil incarnate. I’ve never seen a rational argument for Rove’s dismissal.

  18. submandave says:

    Hopefully Bush will start some military action with Iran in early September

    Funny, I was under the impression that Iran could have a very real effect upon the potential for military action by simply fulfilling their international obligations vis-a-vis uranium enrichment and nuclear inspections. Kind-of like how Saddam could have kept on killing Kurds as long as he opened up his programs to real inspections just as he had previously agreed to do. This same arrogance that America is the cause of anything that does or does not happen is the same arrogance that dismisses the potential ramifications of a nuclear armed Iran. So much of their world is BS and bluster that they find it hard to conceive that Bush or Armidenejad actually mean what they say.

  19. TallDave says:

    Okay, sport: how *did* â??Bushâ?? get Zarqawi?

    I was hoping someone would ask that.

    Hey sport: how did Bush cause the Abu Ghraib abuse? We got ten million editorials explaining that most tenuous of connections. At least killing Zarqawi was a stated policy.

    There’s a simple calculus here: if it’s bad, Bush is responsible. If it’s good, everyone else including the media (we! we! we!) gets the credit.

    And as was pointed out, that keeps up right until election time, until the GOP points out they are not in fact the cause of all the world’s evils and none of its good.

  20. Roger says:

    How did Bush cause the Abu Ghraib abuse? First, he made clear we no longer abide by the Geneva conventions. Next, he made clear we no longer call torture what it is and pretend that what it is it is not. And again, he sent out his VP to explain how it was all okay if we do it. And again, he hid people away and prevented Red Cross or any other oversight so whatever happened could happen–not his fault of course, stuff happens. And so on . . .

  21. Liberals are Dumb says:

    Roger,

    Why do we have to abide by Geneva conventions when it only applies to uniformed troops representing a state?

    Plus, Bush did not state that he authorized Abu Ghraib, but he did state that a policy objective was to kill Zarqawi.

    Your two statements contradict each other, with the only common theme being your fanatical, illogical Bush-hate.

    I bet you blame Bush for not getting Osama, even while you blame him for getting Zarqawi.

    No wonder liberal faggots lose elections.

  22. Anderson says:

    Great work, TallDave. You really demolished that Anderson faggot. He proves the moral idiocy of the left.

    LOL … I should start a gallery of this stuff on my blog.

    Hey sport: how did Bush cause the Abu Ghraib abuse?

    Roger explained this sufficiently, and in words of few syllables, too. The ACLU and others are currently suing to force the feds to reveal the executive order by which Bush authorized torture and abuse at Gitmo, which then migrated via MajGen Geoffrey Miller & the CIA to Abu Ghraib. You could find out all about this in half an hour of Googling if you cared, which you evidently don’t.

    I am sure Zarqawi would abide by Geneva conventions if he caught you – just like he did with Nick Berg.

    So we’re morally constrained only towards those who act morally? Wow, it’s terrible what faggots like me have done to the moral fiber of this nation. Moral idiocy is spreading like a virus, evidently.

  23. lily says:

    Are some of these comments intended to be parodies?

  24. Achillea says:

    …when the Dems are saying �this presidency is an utter failure.� Like, one would have to be emotionally whipped up to think something like that.

    True. One wouldn’t have to be emotionally whipped up to think that — staggeringly ignorant and/or totally delusional would do, as well.

  25. Korla Pundit says:

    >Roger explained this sufficiently, and in words of few syllables, too. The ACLU and others are currently suing to force the feds to reveal the executive order by which Bush authorized torture and abuse at Gitmo, which then migrated via MajGen Geoffrey Miller & the CIA to Abu Ghraib. You could find out all about this in half an hour of Googling if you cared, which you evidently don�t.

    Gee, I should buy stock in tin foil with this kind of person walking the streets.

  26. You know, when I started reading this, I thought, “What an illustrious group of people. Dave, Dean, TallDave, etc.” Then, it becomes all faggots and idiots. Hmmm.

  27. Alan Kellogg says:

    On the “Torture Order”

    Sometimes when somebody says he doesn’t have the keys to the house, he means he doesn’t have the keys to the house.

  28. Thom says:

    RE: Anderson’s comment:
    The ACLU and others are currently suing to force the feds to reveal the executive order by which Bush authorized torture and abuse at Gitmo, which then migrated via MajGen Geoffrey Miller & the CIA to Abu Ghraib. You could find out all about this in half an hour of Googling if you cared, which you evidently don�t.

    –Seems the ACLU is wasting valuable lawyer and court time when they could just Google for truth and present that. Or did you mean Google to find out what the ACLU is doing now? Myself, I find some of their news sources questionable much less just what comes back in a search; both sides included.

  29. M. Simon says:

    Economic growth near 4%, Unemployment below 5%.

    A war casualty rate barely above the accident rate.

    Worst President ever.

    Sure.

  30. Liberals are Dumb says:

    M Simon,

    He is the worst President ever. For those who hate America like the commies here.

    For those who want America to prosper, Bush is a good President.

    Thus, there is no disagreement about this assessment. Merely about whether America should thrive or die.

  31. anjin-san says:

    So Bush “got” Zarqawi? Too bad he could not do the same with Bin Laden…

  32. Liberals are Dumb says:

    anjin-san,

    So, to get Bin Laden, are you suggesting invading Pakistan? I thought you didn’t even approve the invasion of Iraq.

  33. anjin-san says:

    Dumb,

    Bush said “Those who harbor terrorists will share their fate”.

    Guess he is just full of it…

  34. LJD says:

    So predictable. Gently lift the needle off the record Anjin, it’s skipping…

  35. Anderson says:

    Are some of these comments intended to be parodies?

    I used to wonder that, Lily. “Can ‘Herb’ be for real?” I would ask myself. But I wonder no more.

    The gap between the intelligence and civility of OTB’s posts and those of its comments, is a puzzle. Are there not posts enough at LGF and PowerLine, so that people feel obliged to wander into JJ’s blog?

  36. “Why is it so difficult to be gracious and magnanimous and still be engaged in politics these days?”

    I see growing evidence every day the MSM and other left wing organizations have been co-opted by the terrorists. Terrorists know what they tell these journalists, as long as it is anti-American, will be published as fact in our nation’s newspapers and bellowed on TV screens and regurgitated by our liberal representives in Washington.

    So, “gracious and magnanimous” pretty much go out the window when they advocate strapping explosives to a retarded kid to kill Americans.