Is there a "reset button" on the Bush presidency?

After its worst week in office, the Bush administration tries to regroup.

Published October 30, 2005 7:06PM (EST)

We hate to interrupt your otherwise peaceful, extra-hour's-sleep Sunday morning with yet another reason to agonize over the people running the country -- but isn't this what you love us for? So here's what we learned in the new issue of Time magazine: After last week, the Bush administration's worst week in office, people in the White House have finally lost their sense of "infallibility," and George W. Bush is now thinking it may be time to regroup.

That's right. Astonishingly, prior to this week Bush had a tendency to think that everything around him was going swimmingly. Not anymore, Time's anonymous source says. The indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, and the forced withdrawal of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, have "wakened them from their notion of infallibility," the advisor tells Time. Indeed, Time's source says, Bush has actually "lost some of his confidence in the three people he listens to the most," meaning Karl Rove, Andy Card and Dick Cheney.

Of course, it's hard to know what to make of news that Bush has lost respect for the three men who've guided his every move since he took office. Does it make you feel any better to know that Bush may now start running the country all by himself? Yeah, we know -- that's too scary even for Halloween. But Time suggests the shifts may come gradually, as a new set of hand-holders comes in to replace the old ones being shunted out. Card, for instance, may be eased out of his job (he could become the next Treasury secretary, Time says) and replaced by budget chief Josh Bolten. Cheney may have to spend some time in the doghouse. And Rove? Rove's still going to run politics from the White House, Time says, but Bush isn't happy with his senior advisor -- who lied to the president about his role in the Plame scandal -- and Rove may therefore have his wings clipped.

In this reshuffling, White House advisors -- or at least the ones who talked to Time -- say they see a chance for a Bush renaissance, what the magazine calls a "reset button" for his presidency. If Bush can successfully install a Supreme Court nominee and then relaunch himself in January's State of the Union address with a slate of policy ideas (tax reform, immigration, etc.) he may regain the upper hand in time for the midterm elections. As one Bush staffer tells Time: "It is fundamentally a question of reconnecting with the American people ... One of the good things about being President of the United States is that even when you're down, you have the ability to control your own destiny through the bully pulpit."

There's an obvious problem for Bush, though: He doesn't control his own destiny. All presidencies are governed by world events, but Bush's will be determined by an outside force of his own making -- the war. And about connecting with the American people? He probably shouldn't bank on that either, since here's another thing we noticed in the news this morning: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a majority of Americans believe the Libby indictment suggests broader ethical slipperiness in the White House. Fifty-five percent believe "the Libby case indicates wider problems 'with ethical wrongdoing' in the White House," the Post says, "while 41 percent believe it was an 'isolated incident.' And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush." The poll also shows Bush's approval rating at 39 percent, the lowest number the survey has ever recorded for him.

In other words, Bush may want to reconnect with the American people, but it doesn't look like they want to reconnect with him.

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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