The nation takes to the blame game

A host of new polls show that George W. Bush is more unpopular than ever.

Published September 10, 2005 8:37PM (EDT)

Throughout the week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan assured the nation that it was only Democrats and troublemakers in the elite news media who delighted in playing that long-lost American sport known as the blame game. Every other American wasn't inclined to point fingers, he said, because we all know that kvetching about whether the federal government might have saved lives or eased suffering by doing more than it did, faster and more competently than it did -- well, Americans are better than that. We're not a nation of glum, hard-to-please, sad-faced, finger-pointing blame-gamers.

The thing is, though, it turns out we are! A slate of new polls released in the last couple of days shows that when something goes catastrophically wrong, Americans, like people everywhere else, apparently want to hold someone accountable for the mistakes. In other words, the blame game has caught on. What's more, the White House is losing.

A poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 67 percent of Americans believe George W. Bush "could have done more" to aid hurricane victims. The picture is roughly the same in other surveys: A Zogby poll shows that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's hurricane response, CBS has 58 percent disapproval, Associated Press/Ipsos finds 52 percent, and Newsweek says that 40 percent of Americans think the federal government's hurricane response was "poor," while 32 percent say it was "fair." When SurveyUSA asked Americans to rate Bush's hurricane response on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being a miserable failure, 10 being awesome -- 34 percent gave him a 1. More than half rated him a 5 or less. (But 24 percent of respondents -- call them blame-game-player haters -- gave him a 9 or 10.)

All these polls show that Bush's poor hurricane response has damaged his overall approval rating. In some polls, Bush's unpopularity is breathtaking: Newsweek shows just 38 percent approve of the job he's doing. The poll also shows that what was once seen as Bush's greatest strength -- his capacity to convince Americans that only he could keep us out of danger -- has fizzled. The magazine reports that 52 percent of Americans "say they do not trust the president 'to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis' (45 percent do). The numbers are exactly the same when the subject is trust of the president to make the right decisions during an international crisis."

We could go on and on with the bad ratings -- we could tell you about the staggeringly high number of Americans who believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, or who disapprove of everything from Bush's handling of gas prices to the war in Iraq. But maybe that's enough blame-gaming for one Saturday afternoon.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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