If Bush Were Popular, We Wouldn't Need Polls to Convince Us
Published on Friday, May 16, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
If Bush Were Popular, We Wouldn't Need Polls to Convince Us
by Matt Peiken

If 67 percent of the population agreed about something, you'd think we'd all know it. We wouldn't need polls to inform us two out of three people are of one mind. We could just walk down the street, make eye contact and nod, or maybe throw each other that two-handed finger point that says "Hey, bud, I'm with you."

The truth is, we're not of one mind. Few individuals are even of one mind with themselves.

The latest New York Times/CBS poll shows 67 percent of Americans approve of President Bush's job performance. Yet the same poll showed ambivalence with Bush on nearly every indicator of governmental leadership.

Only half believe the Bush administration has at all improved the nation's economy, only 42 percent believe public schools have improved under Bush, just 35 percent believe Bush has ensured the existence of Social Security and Medicare for future generations, only 36 percent say he's helped create new jobs and just 19 percent believe Bush has helped reduce the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly.

In late April, a New York Times/CBS poll touting overwhelming support for President Bush and the war with Iraq also showed only 38 percent thought the U.S. should attack other countries it perceives as threats. Only 29 percent said the U.S. should continue trying to change dictatorships into democracies wherever it can.

These polls only illustrate Americans are confused. How are people measuring their satisfaction? Can anyone among the supposed satisfied articulate and detail for us unsatisfied souls why they believe George W. Bush is doing his job at a satisfactory level or better? Can someone point out one significant area of national life that hasn't nose-dived since Bush took office?

People aren't wealthier, happier, healthier, safer or more hopeful, and they don't care to address that. They're holding fast to the Titanic, keeping their eyes peeled for evil outside the gaping hole in the bow, impervious to the water rushing up to their collarbones.

The day it was announced the nation's unemployment rate had ballooned to 6 percent, the president had the audacity to convert the grim news into ammunition to push his proposed tax cuts.

Are Americans' memories are so short or selective they can't remember how well his 2001 tax cut worked?

The United States has lost 2 million jobs since Bush took office, affecting every employment sector and income level. The stock market continues to plummet, the national debt continues to climb and consumer confidence is at a decade low. This, in addition to the environmental protections Bush has stripped, eroded and erased, the public schools and universities choked under Bush's watch and the hike in health insurance coinciding with shrinking benefits.

You'd think people would connect the dots between Bush's policies and the sadness around them.

Until a few weeks ago, if I'd ever spoken personally to anyone who could speak warmly of the president, I wasn't aware of it. I certainly didn't expect that trend to end during my recent trip home, to California. But in that brief week, I was surprised and chagrined to meet the so-called majority in the faces of my dad, a former neighbor, a former colleague and a guy who, now, I regard as my former best friend.

All are among the Americans who supported America's war with Iraq and, in the same breath, considered Bush a wonderful leader at this time of crisis (70 percent of Americans would agree with them, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll). Each erected walls of anger and disbelief I would question the Bush administration's motives or its assertion Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

"So you're pretending September 11 didn't happen?"

"Would you wait until the next bomb drops in your backyard?"

"What would have happened if we didn't go after Hitler?"

"Bush is showing what happens to anybody who messes with the U.S."

"I trust my government."

My first thought -- How could I associate with any of these people? -- gave way to a moment of clarity regarding the so-called majority. People supported the war and continue supporting this president because it's the choice requiring the least thought, risk and personal commitment. It requires only the willingness not to seek information. Why bother studying issues and motives, sorting out truths from lies, and weighing the financial, human and hidden costs of our government's plans and policies? It's easier not to, really.

One vote of confidence for our president covers all our bases. We don't have to think after that. And let's face it, it's a heck of a deal. All we have to do, as citizens loyal to our president, is go to church, watch televised news, shop, keep the grill hot and, if we're so inclined, keep an eye out for people who don't look like us congregating in public.

Our president and his posse will keep us safe and put a few tax dollars bucks back in our pockets. Sweet!

One could understand Americans swallowing all this if Bush had upheld his end of the bargain in any tangible, substantive way. Instead, the threat of terrorism is every bit as alive, if not more so, since September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, in the wake of the 2001 tax cuts, not one major corporation or industry (other than the defense industry) has added jobs.

By choosing not to arm themselves with information, people are ducking their heads and swinging at whatever comes near. That instinct means protecting Bush on the home front.

Supporters regard him with a soft spot reserved for a wayward brother or son - he's beleaguered, misunderstood, picked on by a liberal public, a downhome fella, really a nice guy once you get to know him. They've closed ranks and huddled around one of their own, treating red, white and blue as the colors of a sports team. Bush supporters are anchored to ideology as if it's religion. Their beliefs are unassailable and absolute, and any criticisms of Bush are swipes at their faith.

John Brady Kiesling, the American diplomat who resigned in February because he couldn't abide Bush's foreign policy, left office with an ardent hope: "I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting." In November 2004, Americans can elect a president who believes our country is safer with more friends in the world than enemies. We can elect a leader who will lift the country up from the bottom instead of push it down from the top. We can elect someone who inspires hope, not fear.

We can elect a president who would earn our support -- a support we could gauge by our own happiness and that of our friends and neighbors, by observing the vibrancy of our communities and the vitality of our economy. We wouldn't need polls to tell us we're satisfied with our president. We would already know it.

Matt Peiken is an arts and features staff writer for the St. Paul(Minn.) Pioneer Press. More than 100 of his articles are available online at mattpeiken.com . Email him at mpeiken@msn.com