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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2005 / 22 Ellul, 5765

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Benefit of the doubt

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Somebody better send some of that Hurricane Katrina aid to President Bush quick because he certainly is a victim of that killer storm. His job approval ratings have collapsed in the national polls, and his delay in taking command in the immediate wake of the storm surge has eroded confidence in some of his other policies as well.

According to the latest Gallup poll, support for the war in Iraq tumbled eight points to a dismal 32 percent in the days after Katrina hit. What has happened here is that George W. Bush is no longer being given the benefit of the doubt by many Americans who previously afforded him that luxury.

There is no question that Mr. Bush defeated John Kerry last November because independent voters trusted his competency more than Kerry's. Both men were flawed candidates. Bush had to deal with mistakes in Iraq and the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. Kerry could not illustrate what he would do to improve the Iraq situation or fight the terror war in general.

So when it came to pulling the voting lever, 3 million more Americans choose Bush over Kerry because they felt the doubts about Kerry were stronger than those about Bush. After all, the president had dealt firmly with the Taliban after 9/11 and presented himself as a man who could stand up to the Islama-fascists.

But now the deadly winds of Katrina have obscured that image, and the president is no longer inspiring confidence among many. He is trying to spend his way out of the Katrina debacle, but that might not work. His poll numbers did not bounce after his New Orleans reconstruction speech.

Of course Bush haters around the world are ecstatic about his eroding status. The gloating in the European press after Katrina hit was downright despicable. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was particularly nasty, implying the USA is a racist country led by a man who intentionally wanted to see poor people suffer. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was so incensed by this anti-American propaganda he denounced the BBC publicly.

At this point, there is little President Bush can do but wait things out. Obviously, he needs a big win like the capture of bin Laden, something dramatic like that. Also, there will be a backlash against the Bush haters if they don't watch it. Americans are disappointed with the president, to be sure, but most still like him as a person. Every time a foolish person like Bette Midler makes a nasty joke about Mr. Bush (Midler referenced a cocaine dealer providing him with concert tickets), fair-minded Americans feel sympathy for the president.

But make no mistake about it, the Bush presidency is in trouble. W needs to regain his leadership credibility, and he needs to show the nation his administration is in command, especially in Iraq, which the elite media will spin negative all day long.

Finally, President Bush must directly engage the American oil companies and make sure working Americans are not brutalized by home heating costs this winter. If that situation is not brought under control soon, Mr. Bush will be doomed.

Just four weeks ago, the president was enjoying his summer vacation in Crawford, Texas, with only the minor annoyance of Cindy Sheehan causing him angst. Now, his entire legacy is wobbling. The levees have been breached on Pennsylvania Avenue. But in this situation no evacuation is possible.

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of, most recently, "Who's Looking Out for You?" Comments by clicking here.

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