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Jewish World Review July 2, 2001 / 11 Tamuz 5761

Bill Schneider

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Dubya: Like father, like son?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- PRESIDENT BUSH may be one step away from becoming his father. That's the message of a poll reported last week in "The New York Times."

Bush ought to be riding high after the success of his tax cut, the education bill and his trip to Europe. In fact, the President's job rating is still fairly high -- 55 percent in the Gallup poll, 53 percent in the "New York Times"-CBS News poll. And he still draws positive favorability ratings. People like Bush.

The problem is that things are moving in the wrong direction. Instead of going up, they're going down. The "Times" reported that President Bush's standing in both domestic and international affairs has "diminished considerably'': his ratings as a strong leader, down five points since February; the view that he can be trusted to keep his word, down 8 points since April; approval of the way he is handling foreign policy, down 6 points since May.

Why is this happening? Three words: out of touch. President Bush has done pretty well with his agenda, but more and more Americans have come to believe that the President's agenda is not the American public's agenda. The evidence? The "Times"-CBS poll asked people, "Has President Bush concentrated on the problems that matter most to you?'' Over 60 percent said no -- he's concentrated on problems that matter most to his supporters.

Interestingly, in the same poll, 60 percent held the view that President Bush "cares about the needs and problems of people like yourself'' -- a finding backed up by the Gallup poll, which found 59 percent of the opinion that Bush "cares about the needs of people like you.'' The President is seen as "personally" compassionate. But personal compassion and a political compassion are two different things. The problem is that people do not believe the needs and problems of ordinary Americans drive his agenda. Something else does.

Ideology? Not exactly. The polls do not reveal many complaints that President Bush is too conservative. In the April Gallup poll, 35 percent called Bush's political views "too conservative'' compared with 41 percent who called them "about right'' and 16 percent "too liberal.'' Just ten percent told the "Times"-CBS interviewers that Bush's policies were more conservative than they expected them to be.

The problem is the President's priorities. The public's top concerns right now are education, social security, energy, prescription drug costs and the patient's bill of rights. The Democrats wisely decided to work with the President on the education bill. All the others are issues that Democrats have been pushing. The public most clearly parts company with the President on energy and environmental issues, where his policies seem way of of step. The public gives priority to energy conservation over energy production. They believe the U.S. should abide by the Kyoto treaty on global warming, even if it does not require developing countries to share the burden and might harm the U.S. economy.

So what do people think is driving Bush's agenda? Not conservative ideology. Special interests. In the Gallup poll, Americans endorsed the view by better than two to one that big business has too much influence over the Bush Administration. In this month's "Times"-CBS poll, 57 percent said the President's policies favor the rich. Not the middle class (8 percent). Or the poor (2 percent). Or "all groups the same'' (27 percent). A lot of people see President Bush as a front man for the big money boys. That's why they believe he's out of touch.

On issue after issue, the public is closer to the Democrats' priorities than to those of President Bush. Over 80 percent of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage. Three quarters want Medicare to pay for the costs of prescription drugs for all beneficiaries, even if it raises Medicare costs and premiums. Two thirds want to guarantee patients in managed health care care plans the right to sue. A majority trusts Senate Democrats more than President Bush "to make the right decisions about who should sit on the United States Supreme Court.''

What's saving President Bush right now is that things are not so bad. Seventy percent of Americans say the economy's still in fairly good shape. While people have doubts about the President's skills as a world leader -- in the "Times"-CBS poll, a 44-to-37 percent plurality felt other world leaders do not have respect for Bush -- it doesn't matter too much because there's no international crisis.

Remember what happened to his dad? After the Gulf War in 1991, the elder President Bush was on top of the world. But when the economy went sour, he was seen as out of touch with ordinary Americans. That's the risk Republicans take when they elect a candidate born to wealth and privilege. This guy's had it easy all his life. What does he know about how ordinary people live?

Democrats can get away with electing someone born to wealth and privilege, like Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. They're Democrats. But Republicans rarely take that risk. Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan all came from modest origins. The Bushes are the exception.

No one has ever called President Bush a striver. Everything in his life appears to have been handed to him by his rich friends. Including the presidency. He's been lucky. He's had it easy. Which means that what happened to his father could happen to him -- if things turn bad.

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© 2001, William Schneider