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White House, Titanic, much in common
Media General News Service


October 25, 2005

WASHINGTON - The Titanic, at the bottom of the Atlantic for 93 years, is disintegrating more rapidly than expected.

That news last week naturally led some in the nation's capital to think about President Bush, who has been in deep water for some time. His deterioration in the polls also has accelerated.

The president had a 90 percent approval rating after Sept. 11, 2001, the highest in the history of Gallup. Bush's popularity now has sunk to his lowest. Only 39 percent of people approve of the way Bush is handling his job, the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll reported. Other polls confirm the slide.

He hasn't plumbed the depths of his father's 29 percent and Richard Nixon's 24 percent approval ratings, however.

Pesky bacteria are eating the manganese, iron and sulfur from the Titanic's steel. Irate conservatives like Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's ill-fated 1987 Supreme Court nominee, are taking big bites from the president's hide.

In an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal last week, Bork urged conservatives to abandon the president.

"The supporters should rethink. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aside, George W. Bush has not governed as a conservative (amnesty for illegal immigrants, reckless spending that will ultimately undo his tax cuts, signing a campaign finance bill even while maintaining its unconstitutionality). This George Bush, like his father, is showing himself to be indifferent, if not actively hostile, to conservative values."

Columnist George Will and former Bush speechwriter David Frum have also dined out on Bush since the Harriet Miers nomination.

When a reporter asked Bush earlier this month if he's still a conservative, he replied, "Proudly so, proudly so."

Bush's aides try constantly to reassure the party's base. White House chief of staff Andy Card, regarded as a moderate, denied he was responsible for Miers' nomination. In an interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN last weekend, Card also stressed Bush's conservatism.

"The president is a conservative. He's a true-blue conservative whose track record speaks volumes. I think he has been very consistent," Card said. "He's a good conservative president and I think that the conservatives should be applauding the president's leadership . . ."

It's Democrats - not conservatives - who are privately applauding Bush. But so far Democrats are not reaping benefits from the president's problems. Independents may be disgusted with Bush but they aren't thronging to the party of "merlot Democrats," as Howard Dean calls it, either.

Democrats have the kind of luck that if they bought a winning Powerball ticket, they'd put it in the pocket of their jacket and leave it on the bus.

Bush, who promised to be "a uniter not a divider," may be about to do more long division among Republicans.

He's reviving his guest worker proposal. Bush wants to allow illegal immigrants to stay here legally for six years. After that, they'd be expected to go home.

"We're going to get control of our borders. We'll make this country safer for all our citizens," Bush said.

Safety is not what people are feeling in the post-Katrina world. Many see the guest worker plan as de facto amnesty, a way to allow the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants to stay in this country forever.

In a hearing last week, senators questioned Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor secretary Elaine Chao about how the government would ensure the workers went home. Would they be deported if they stayed?

For once, a candid answer: That would be "hugely, hugely difficult to do," Chertoff said. It would cost "billions and billions" to track down the workers and provide the proper process, he said.

Besides, after six years, many young immigrant men would have married and started families. Children born here are American citizens.

Republicans' big worry is next year's congressional elections. Traditionally, when a president's approval rating slips below 50 percent, his party tends to lose a chunk of seats in mid-term elections.

The Gallup poll showed Congress' job approval rating at 29 percent - its lowest since voters gave Republicans control of the House and Senate in 1994.

The election is a year away, and incumbents have worked to make themselves nearly invulnerable through redistricting.

The Titanic has been growing "rusticles," icicle-shaped clumps formed by microbes, since well before George W. Bush came to town, since before the Democrats lost Congress, since before the Reagan revolution.

Divers predicted that, even with the speedier demise, the hull could remain intact another 80 to 100 years, although the decks likely will disappear sooner. Everything is relative.


Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service.
E-mail mmercer(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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