Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Did Katrina Undo the Bush Administration?

According to this report on an article that will appear in Vanity Fair in January, former George W. Bush aides Matthew Dowd and Dan Bartlett argue that the President lost the country with the failures, real and perceived, related to the government's response to hurricane Katrina.

History will probably remember it this way, but that interpretation is overly simplistic and largely untrue. A fuller picture can be developed from looking at this polling data compiled by the Roper Center.

Mr. Bush's presidency began under the cloud of controversy surrounding his election in 2000. However, the country rallied behind him in the aftermath of 9/11, and in late 2001 his approval ratings peaked at around 90%. However, they began to steadily decline, and by mid 2004 polls were beginning to show approval rates in the high 40's. Mr. Bush would have lost the 2004 election had the Democrats not nominated such an extraordinarily weak and unattractive candidate.

The President's approval ratings continued their slide after the 2004 elections. The Katrina catastrophe hardened and accelerated that trend, but it did not undo the President. His undoing was already accomplished.

Of course, some Republicans would prefer to think that Katrina undid the Bush presidency, as that re-telling takes focus away from the broader failures of the administration.

Speaking for myself, the President lost me -- along with many other conservatives -- with his speech at his second inauguration. While I had been unenthusiastic about his expansion of the federal government through programs such as No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, I had been willing to give him a pass for the most part. However, with the second inaugural address, a utopianism -- with regard to foreign and domestic policy -- usually associated with the left became more fully apparent. In the President's defense, his utopianism didn't end as badly as the other efforts at creating ideological heavens on earth over the course of the 20th century. Of course, that comparison doesn't set the bar very high.


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