The president's double reverse halo

First, Iraq colored Americans' views of the Bush administration's other policies. Now Katrina apppears to be coloring their views of Iraq.

Published September 21, 2005 5:40PM (EDT)

It it possible to wear one halo on top of another? Maybe it is if each of them is a "reverse halo" -- and if your name is George W. Bush.

Not long ago, pollsters and pundits were talking about the "reverse halo" of Iraq. Although there were hopeful signs on some fronts -- jobs, the economy -- Bush wasn't getting credit for them among voters because they viewed him through the prism of a failing war. As Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Washington Post, concerns about the way in which Bush was handling Iraq colored the way Americans were thinking about his policies in other areas.

But that was back in August, when Iraq was the most visible manifestation of the problems with the Bush presidency. Now Katrina has taken over that role, and there's some evidence that Americans' views about the way in which Bush has handled the response to the storm is coloring the way they're thinking about Iraq.

As Reuters reports today, public support for the war in Iraq has "nosedived in the aftermath of Katrina." A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released Monday had 66 percent of Americans favoring the withdrawal of some or all of the U.S. troops in Iraq -- an increase of 10 percentage points from the results Gallup reported just two weeks ago.

Steven Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University, tells Reuters that the issue is one of money. "Americans want to attend to the needs of people at home before we take care of people overseas," he says.

But we'd submit that it's also an issue of competency and trust. Support for the war has eroded steadily even as the president has insisted, in ways that are hard for the average American to verify, that progress is being made in Iraq. With Katrina, the administration has made the same sort of claims -- sometimes using the same sort of language -- but Americans have watched a contrary story play out for each, either up close and personal on the Gulf Coast or on TV elsewhere. They've seen the disconnect between the reality on the ground and the words coming out of the president's mouth. If they don't think Bush is doing the job right in New Orleans -- if they think they can't trust him to tell the truth about the response to a natural disaster at home -- why should they continue to support him as he prosecutes a war 6,000 miles away?

By 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 Iraq War Middle East War Room