When California voters woke up one morning in 2003 and discovered that they didn't much like their governor, there was something they could do about it. California law provides an avenue for recalling elected officials, and the voters took advantage of it, tossing Gray Davis out of office just 11 months after they'd elected him to a second term.
We can't all be Californians.
There's no recall provision in the U.S. Constitution, and the federal "lemon law" applies to cars but not candidates. Impeachment is the only way to oust a sitting U.S. president, and with solid Republican majorities in the House and in the Senate, George W. Bush has no need to worry that the I-word is about to become a thing in the reality-based world. So eight months into the president's second term, it's time for Americans to get their minds around this: The president may be "politically diminished both nationally and internationally," as NBC News observes this morning, but he's still going to be the president for an additional 1,224 days and 14 hours.
Did it have to come to this? Bush got 51 percent of the vote in November, but a Washington Post/ABC News poll out today says that only 42 percent of Americans approve of the way in which Bush is handling his job. What are they seeing in their president now that they didn't see in November? And if the mainstream media had cast a more critical eye on Bush during his first term, would the nation not be suffering along with him through a second term now?
Dan Froomkin raises a variation on that second question in his latest column. All of a sudden, Froomkin notes, the mainstream press is full of stories about Bush the Failure. Newsweek says the president is so "cold and snappish in private" that his aides are afraid to bring him bad news, a dynamic that played a role in Bush's apparent cluelessness about the extent of Katrina's destruction. Time talks of the "bubble" in which the president has isolated himself and regales its readers with the story of an aide who, sometime during Bush's first term, found himself dry heaving in the bathroom after a typically unpleasant exchange with his testy boss.
This is all well and good, but where were these stories before Bush won reelection? More to the point, why did the mainstream media paint pretty much the opposite picture of the president during his first four years in office?
"Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now," Froomkin writes. "Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans. But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere."
And they're not just "critical observations and insights," either. In some cases, there are facts that the mainstream media simply chose not to share with the American public before Bush was reelected. As we noted last month, Time knew from the very beginning that Karl Rove had played a role in outing Valerie Plame, but it chose to remain silent -- essentially complicit in the Bush administration lie about the case -- so as not to influence the presidential election.
Maybe none of it would have mattered. Maybe a thousand stories in the mainstream press about a snippy and isolated president wouldn't have changed the minds of people who saw in Bush a strong leader who brought the country together after one terrorist attack and would keep it safe from another. But the president's poll numbers over the past few weeks suggest that even his supporters are capable of changing their minds when confronted with the truth about Iraq, about the state of this nation and about the man they reelected just 10 months ago.