Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bush's polling -- what happens if we are attacked again?

In early March, I asked:
... if the Administration guesses that terrorists pose a political as well as an economic and physical threat, can we now finally expect them to take national security seriously?
The question is more relevant than ever. The current political climate is probably such that the Bush Administration can no longer expect the American people to rally in the wake of a major terrorist attack, as they did all too trustingly in 2001. I'd be willing to bet that there is great concern within the political wing of the Administration (which is a very big wing) that Bush would instead find himself the subject of an even more severe crisis of confidence, leading his approval ratings to drop, not rise.

Bush is now polling in the mid to upper thirties (the 33% number in early March was a fluke), and has been since February. (Pollkatz provides the best graphic summary available for Bush's long term trends.) Safire's prognostication aside (in his 2006 office pool NYT op-ed, now unavailable), his numbers don't look like they are heading for any sort of rebound, at least not until the 2006 elections.

My greatest concern is that politics of "instability," which have served Bush so well until his reelection, have provided a disincentive to actually prevent the next attack. Based on the way they continue to talk about Iraq and global terrorism, the Administration still appears to be in the mindset that its political future is tied to the intensity of the polity's fear.

Their current posturing over the next Nazi Germany, Iran, supports this. It will be interesting to see this play out in the polls. Will American opinion on Bush's capacity to wage a Global War on Terror improve in the coming weeks, or is their confidence now too damaged to afford that? Will Americans swallow mentions of "credible nuclear threats" from Iran, or will they rebel against their leaders' history of perfidy in Iraq, even if their leaders are right about the threat?

Ultimately, it's a double-edged sword. Our real safety depends on the real strength of our leadership's national security policy -- we want them to keep us safe and tell us the truth. At the moment, neither seems particularly credible.

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