Polls looks bad? Let's talk about 9/11!

The president's disapproval rating is higher than it's ever been before.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 28, 2005 1:20PM (EDT)

Just in time for George W. Bush's prime-time speech tonight, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll is out with the latest on how Americans feel about the job their president is doing.

The short version: Most of them aren't very happy with it.

Bush's disapproval rating is at its highest point of his presidency, Gallup says. Forty-five percent of the public approves of Bush's performance in office, but 53 percent don't. On the war -- the subject of tonight's speech -- Bush's numbers are even worse. Just 40 percent of the public approves of his handling of Iraq. Fifty-eight percent disapprove.

Gallup breaks down the Iraq numbers on its Web site, and the news should convey to the president the reality on the ground -- in the United States, if not in Iraq. Fifty percent of the American public thinks that no one is winning in Iraq right now, and 14 percent more think that the insurgents are. That leaves just 34 percent who believe that the U.S. is winning. Fifty-three percent believe going to war was a mistake, and 61 percent say that the president doesn't have a clear plan for dealing with Iraq now.

And Bush's problems don't end with Iraq, either. Sixty-four percent of the public disapproves of Bush's handling of Social Security; 59 percent disapprove of his handling of health care; 55 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy; and 53 percent disapprove of his handling of energy policy.

The only "bright spot," Gallup says: Fifty-five percent of the public still approves of his handling of terrorism, and only 41 percent disapprove.

Anyone think that's why we're hearing so much about 9/11 again? Karl Rove lit the match with his remarks in New York last week, reminding Americans that the right-thinking among them were ready for war on 9/11, and the administration and its allies are doing everything they can to keep the flame alive.

<a target= "new" href="Scott McClellan brought up 9/11 fairly well out of the blue at yesterday's White House Press briefing, and Donald Rumsfeld did the same at a Pentagon briefing. Asked how the administration was going to "convince the American people to continue having patience" on Iraq, Rumsfeld said that it's "important to understand" that the United States has been engaged in a war since "since September 11th." "It is hard, I understand, for people to connect all of the pieces, but the reality is we're an awful lot better off fighting against the extremists and the terrorists in other parts of the world than having to do it here at home," he said.

Hard to connect the pieces? Maybe for those of us in the reality-based community, but not for the Bush administration and its supporters. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invoked memories of 9/11 several times in a discussion about Iraq on the Today Show this morning. And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said yesterday that Americans have to remember the stakes in Iraq: "If we get it right in Iraq, all things are possible in the Mideast. If we leave that country in shambles, you've empowered the terrorists, and more 9/11s are coming."

Graham said Bush should use his speech tonight to "reattach the American people to the idea that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror." The White House doesn't need the advice because it's already got the message: The official White House schedule today describes tonight's speech as "remarks on the war on terror."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Middle East Polling War Room