If today's poll in the New York Times is to be believed, voters are already feeling a twinge of buyer's remorse about the midterm election. Even as they express their personal approval of the president, they appear to wish for a Democrat who would lead the country in a very different direction than where Bush, DeLay and Lott are taking us.
Only 37 percent described themselves as "pleased" with the Democratic defeat, compared with 26 percent who were "disappointed (which leaves more than a third somewhere in the middle). The analysis by Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder notes that when the Republicans won both the House and Senate in 1994, almost half said they were happy about it.
Meanwhile, it seems odd that the voters who gave Bush a "mandate" don't endorse his program. They don't want drilling in Alaska, they don't much care for the giant tax cuts, they're concerned about the continuing degradation of the environment, and they aren't thrilled about privatizing Social Security. They're not particularly confident about his capabilities, yet his popularity remains comfortably over 60 percent.
Where have we heard this all before? When Ronald Reagan was president and then won a landslide reelection, the voters felt a similar ambivalence: liked the man, disliked his ideology and agenda.
A reader explained this recurring, baffling phenomenon: "Americans usually vote for the friendly guy -- Ike vs. the intellectual Stevenson, Truman over Dewey, gush Bush not bore Gore, Reagan over naggin', JFK over Nixon, Carter over Ford.... It is a bit like those high school class [presidential] elections -- the vote goes to the nice, social type, not the socialist ..."
It's hard to argue with that cracker-barrel wisdom -- even if you feel, as I do, that Al Gore took an unprecedented, unfair and outrageous beating from the press and still won the election. According to the Times, Gore "is viewed unfavorably today by a ratio of almost two to one, despite a weeklong bath of favorable publicity that accompanied his national tour promoting two new books about the American family." Like most in the national press corps, Nagourney and Elder easily ignore the incessant bashing administered to Gore last week on Fox News, talk radio and in the right-wing press that certainly tempered favorable coverage he and Tipper received elsewhere. But those results have to be sobering to him as he contemplates his choices over the holidays. He deserved better last time, but that's no reason to think he'll get it next time.
[2:01 p.m. PST, Nov. 27, 2002]