NR Online: Leave Bush alone!

Published July 17, 2001 10:32AM (EDT)

Suck-up alert: National Review watches Bush's back

The conservative National Review Online is suggesting that the Washington Post's Dana Milbank is mercilessly picking on the president. Milbank's latest offense, they say, comes from his recent pool coverage of a recent Bush trip to Capitol Hill. The NR Online editors keep the criticism of Milbank second-hand, declaring that the story "has raised eyebrows among Bushies. They think it drips with contempt for Bush, and shows the 'real Milbank,' an intelligent reporter but one singularly unimpressed with W."

As back up, NR Online includes a full transcript of Milbank's report, in which he quotes the president saying "We're going to talk about a lot of things," and "We're going to get a lot of things done for America," before stepping into a meeting with congressional GOP members. Milbank later observed, "The president and the caucus got so many things done for America so quickly that the hour-long meeting lasted only 45 minutes: a 25 minute speech by the president and 20 minutes of schmoozing."

While Milbank's pool report is plenty snarky, it hardly leaves the ink stains of a poison pen. And NR Online's habit of attacking anything that's not pro-Bush not only reveals its lack of objectivity about the commander in chief, but something else far more depressing: A streak of humorlessness.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Poll watch: Bush slips in Fox poll

Fox News is usually Bush friendly territory, but the president didn't get any special favors from its most recent poll. The conservative network's latest survey, conducted from July 10 to 11, finds that Bush's job approval rating stands at 56 percent, a three point drop from early June. Luckily for the president, that part of the poll was eclipsed by the other survey findings about public confidence in the honesty of Rep. Gary Condit, D-Cal. (FYI: There isn't much).

Another poll finds that the White House rightly boasts that Bush is easy to like, no matter what he does on the job. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, which was conducted from July 10 to 11, shows that 70 percent of Americans approve of Bush as a person, and an even higher number -78 percent-say that they respect him. That compares with just 57 percent who approve of the job he's doing as president.

But Bush still has work to do in convincing the American people that he cares about their problems, with 57 percent of those polled believing that Bush does care, but 40 percent claiming that he doesn't. It's the second time during his tenure that he's cracked the 40 point mark on the negative side of the empathy question, with that number hitting 42 percent in a March poll.

The president has a more pressing problem with public perception of his leadership skills. While 57 percent of Americans see him as a strong and decisive leader, 40 percent believe that he's not. What's worse for Bush is that July was the first time such a great number of Americans saw him as indecisive. When he was an untried candidate for the presidency in March 1999, 60 percent of those polled called him decisive, while a scant 14 percent said he was not. In January, days before his inauguration, 66 percent of Americans believed him decisive, compared to 24 percent who did not.

Both polls have a three point margin of error

Bush job approval

  • 56 percent, Fox News, July 10 to 11
    Down from 59 percent, June 6 to 7

  • 57 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, July 10 to 11
    Up from 52 percent, June 28 to July 1

  • 50 percent, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, June 23 to 25
    Down from 56 percent, April 21 to 23

  • 53 percent, CBS News/New York Times, June 14 to 18
    Down from 57 percent, May 10 to 12

  • 50 percent, Pew Center, June 13 to 17
    Down from 53 percent, May 15 to 20

  • 55 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, May 31 to June 3
    Down from 63 percent, April 19 to 22

  • 54 percent, Bloomberg, May 29 to June 3
    Down from 56 percent, April 3 to 8

    -- A.M.

    Daily line

    "Conservation is a must. We must become much more efficient in energy use ... For the country, efficiency helps us make the most of our resources, softens the impact of high prices and reduces pollution."
    -- Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, delivering his energy policy speech in Pennsylvania

    Bush buzz

    Vice President Cheney and a slew of Cabinet secretaries hit the road to pump up Bush's energy policy on Monday, holding town hall meetings to discuss solutions to what the administration once referred to as "the energy crisis." Cheney, the White House's main energy pitchman, had to rely on his wife to deliver his speech because he had lost his voice.

    That's an apt metaphor for what's happened to Bush's big power plan. Released with great fanfare in May, the policy was an early victim of the Senate power switch. Then something worse happened to dim the plan's chances; energy prices started to drop, and so did public interest in the White House's initiative on building domestic power resources.

    So the Cabinet tour is considered the last, best hope for salvaging the initiative. But maybe the president should just let this one go. The issue has never been a winner for Bush, with public opinion polls consistently finding energy to be one of his weakest policy areas and Democrats ever eager to mention the White House's ties to the power industry. And now Cheney has given administration critics fresh ammunition on the issue.

    It seems that the veep's electricity bill is too high and too unstable for him, so the administration wants to shift the $186,000 annual tab for keeping his residence lighted to the Navy. (Cheney's official mansion is the Naval Observatory, after all.) In his early stumping for the Bush power plan, Cheney infamously downplayed the importance of turning out lights and other methods of cutting back power use, calling conservation a "sign of personal virtue" but not a serious means of dealing with energy problems.

    Public doubt about Bush's energy policy is usually coupled with the perception that he doesn't care about the environment. As if to reinforce that impression, the Environmental Protection Agency has just announced its intention to stall implementation of Clinton administration plans to clean up the nation's waterways. Green groups are already calling Bush some familiar names over the proposed delay.

    Meanwhile, the president is finding that some of his immigration ideas are more trouble than they're worth. The White House quickly backed off from a proposal to grant amnesty to millions of Mexicans who are in this country illegally. The gesture -- part of Bush's ongoing campaign to pick up Latino voters -- flew like a lead balloon with conservatives. For the second time, Bush's own party members are grumbling about his selling out national priorities to please Hispanics. Similar charges flew when the White House pledged to phase out munitions testing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

    Speaking of unintended consequences, Bush's big victory on the tax cut could be dimmed by an IRS snafu. The agency started sending out letters informing taxpayers that their rebate checks are in the mail. The trouble is, some of the letters gave the wrong information, incorrectly telling 500,000 households to expect the maximum rebate of $300 for singles or $600 for couples when the checks will in fact be smaller. The mistake likely amuses some congressional Democrats, many of whom denounced the IRS letters as Bush propaganda.

    And don't miss Bush getting on the bad side of his base with his plan to cut Social Security benefits for disabled veterans and survivors of military personnel killed in the line of duty. During the presidential campaign, Bush vigorously courted members of the armed services, accusing the Clinton administration of neglecting military matters and damaging morale.

    Tuesday schedule: Bush delivers a speech previewing his upcoming trip to Europe at the World Bank in Washington.

    -- A.M.

    This day in Bush history

    July 17, 1989: The Boston Globe reported that President Bush would fight a government watchdog who filed a lawsuit to get ahold of computer-transmitted messages -- e-mail -- concerning the Iran-Contra scandal. Historians and administration critics argued that the messages should be part of the official archive and subject to review. The Bush Justice Department argued that the computer messaging system "serves primarily as a surrogate for a telephone call or personal visit. Its messages are transitory." It "is simply not intended to be used as a permanent 'record' of its entries." Oliver North had tried to delete messages relevant to the arms-for-hostages deal, but was unsuccessful.

    Bush league: Retread rogues

    As a foreign policy novice, President Bush has clearly tried to choose people with substantial international affairs experience for sensitive posts in his administration.

    But what kind of experience? A trio of Bush picks is raising red flags among human rights groups, thanks to their work during the Reagan administration's battle against Central American communists in the 1980s.

    Late last week, Bush officially sent to the Senate the nomination of Cuban-American Otto Reich to serve as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the top Latin American diplomatic post. Reich previously served in the Reagan State Department in the Office of Public Diplomacy. In that post, Reich was charged with maintaining public interest in and support for America's fight with communist forces in Central America. But Democrats in Congress at the time said that Reich used his office to cover up human rights abuses, including politically motivated murders, perpetrated by America's Central American allies. No charges were ever filed against Reich.

    Bush's nomination of John Negroponte to serve as American ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, was well received by many Republicans and Clinton administration veterans. Negroponte has already served under four presidents, in positions as exciting and controversial as assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environment and scientific affairs, a post he held under Reagan.

    But it's his years of service as ambassador to Honduras, from 1981 to 1985, that has human rights groups worried. American funding for the anti-communist government there increased by a factor of 20 during Negroponte's tenure, but he repeatedly discounted reports of government-sponsored death squads. Though the Honduran government itself later acknowledged responsibility for the extrajudicial executions of approximately 200 government critics, Negroponte has never backed away from his denials that such incidents occurred on his watch.

    The Senate will be able to take a crack at the records of both Reich and Negroponte, but Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams needed only the president's approval to win a post of senior director of the National Security Council's Office for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations. As Reagan's assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, Abrams was criticized for ignoring human rights charges against anti-communist forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and he eventually pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors associated with less-than-truthful congressional testimony about the Iran-Contra affair. But he never served any jail time; the first President Bush pardoned Abrams on his final Christmas Eve in the White House.

    Critics are whispering that the latest President Bush's affection for Reagan-era commie-busters has less to do with foreign affairs and more to do with Florida politics. These choices, particularly the Reich pick, have reportedly gladdened the hearts of leaders within the Cuban exile community, a crucial Republican voting bloc in that state.

    -- A.M.

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert , Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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