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Jewish World Review April 30, 2001 / 7 Iyar 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Consumer Reports

Bush Deserves Good Grades For 100 Days -- IN 100 days, President Bush has, as promised, changed the tone in Washington. It's businesslike now, not boisterous. We're doing policy, not soap opera. And the public seems to like it.

Instead of Bill Clinton's bifurcated poll ratings - high job approval, low personal favorability - Bush's are in sync. More than 60 percent of the public both approves of his performance and likes him personally.

This is pretty remarkable, given that he lost the popular vote last November, he became president after a bitter recount fight and the economy is soft. In addition, Democrats have questioned his legitimacy, his intelligence, his command of his own administration - and his policies, of course.

Some Democrats have even questioned his honesty, charging that he just masqueraded as "compassionate" to hide his bedrock conservatism and engaged in phony bipartisan outreach to mask a Republican-based legislative strategy.

One former top Clinton aide even suggested to me that Bush's "lies" were worse than Clinton's because Bush's are about public policy whereas Clinton's were just "personal" - neglecting the fact that he was under oath when he rendered some of them.

Nevertheless, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found that nearly 40 percent of Democrats approve of Bush's performance, along with 94 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independents.

Bush may be the beneficiary of low expectations. In the new Fox News-Opinion Dynamics survey, 21 percent of voters said Bush has performed better than they expected. In the Post poll, 39 percent gave this assessment.

As anyone might have predicted from Bush's record as governor of Texas, though, he has laid down a clear set of priorities and has pushed hard on them.

Education, tax cuts and faith-based social programs are first in line. Bush has plumped tirelessly for them across the country, and he is likely to get substantially what he wants from Congress.

In the Post poll, voters support Bush's tax plan by 54 to 39 percent - even though 53 percent said it will benefit upper-income people most and only 15 percent believe it will benefit low- and middle-income taxpayers, as Bush asserts.

Items to come on Bush's agenda - but facing more difficulty - are a production-boosting energy plan, a free-trade push, a patients' rights bill and Medicare reform. All of these items, if accomplished, will put Republicans in good shape to retain control of Congress in the 2002 elections (another top Bush priority).

Bush has made just one significant misstep: allowing himself to be tagged as an enemy of the environment and pal of polluters, an image he's now fighting mightily to correct.

Significantly, the Post poll - conducted last week, just as Bush's environmental counterattack began - showed that he has not suffered seriously even on that score.

Approval of his environmental policies was weaker than in other areas (47 percent vs. 60 percent on education), but disapproval was only 41 percent.

By 54 to 43 percent, voters said it's more important to protect the environment than to produce more energy, but Bush could look like a visionary on this score if California-style blackouts occur in the East.

One of the most interesting of all the recent polls was conducted early this month by Stan Greenberg, once Clinton's and Al Gore's pollster. Essentially, it showed that few of the Democrats' attack lines against Bush are working.

Although Democrats try to portray Bush as the champion of the rich, voters queried by Greenberg-Quinlan Research said by a 53 to 43 margin that he "cares about" people like them.

By 64 to 32 percent, they said Bush is "moderate, not extreme," though a plurality, 46 to 43 percent, believe that he does "listen to right-wing conservatives too much."

Contrary to assertions by Clinton's hand-picked Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, that Republicans "stole" the presidency, Greenberg found that, by 58 to 37 percent, voters discount the statement that Bush was "not really elected president."

Sixty-eight percent of voters said Bush is "a strong leader;" however, 53 percent said he is "too dependent on his advisers." By 55 to 42 percent, voters disagreed with the Democratic line that Bush "seems in over his head."

Fifty-eight percent said he "has good ideas" for meeting the country's problems, and a plurality disagreed with Gore's charge that Bush's proposals are "risky." Still, by 64 to 32 percent, voters said he is "more for big business than the average person."

Testing Bush's tax plan, Greenberg-Quinlan found that 60 percent favored it before a series of arguments for and against it were presented, including a withering (and correct) charge that "A single mother making $25,000 gets nothing."

After listening to the arguments, voters still supported Bush's tax plan by 55 to 42 percent.

One hundred days into his administration, that kind of result is enough to make Democrats weep and give Bush a reason to smile.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.


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