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AS WE GATHER
Current surveys show that only 33 percent of Americans approve of the job President Bush is doing. Approval is even lower for Congress, at 28 percent. These numbers are not much higher than approval ratings for household vermin infestations, if you count the pets who like having the critters around as playmates or snacks.
Here's another dinner-table conversation topic: Why are those approval-rating figures on par with voter-turnout percentages from this month's state and local elections? I don't think people earn the right to complain unless they participate in the process at every opportunity.
The turnout reports will, of course, be much higher a year from now. But even then about a third of registered voters can be expected to sit out a presidential election--not to mention all those who don't even bother
Given that you have turned to the newspaper's Viewpoints section, and have read down to here, your political exchanges across the dinner table will probably be livelier than those whose testiest debate involves jellied cranberry sauce vs. the chunky kind. Diplomatic hosts can circumvent that by serving both.
Just in case your turkey isn't as moist and flavorful as you'd hoped, here are some juicy chatter-starters that go beyond the menu selections.
an impotent congress
Disapproving of what?
The reason Congress is rated even lower than President Bush these days is that it hasn't made him pay for his incompetence and arrogance.
The voters turned both chambers of Congress over to the Democrats a year ago, but the troop surge for Iraq was approved, efforts to bolster health care for poor children fell short, needed repairs to No Child Left Behind have been left behind, sensible solutions to illegal immigration issues remain at large, and the administration continues to enjoy a free pass on prisoner torture and wiretapping.
We're still waiting for someone to show some leadership on the housing crisis, climate change, and the price of gasoline.
Because he's supposed to be in charge, President Bush will be held responsible for this course of inaction. Because of that, a Democrat will be the next president no matter whom the nominee might be. Some of the remaining Republican zealots in Congress will get the boot for their blind allegiance to the blundering Bush.
Is it possible that this most polarizing figure, this ferocious campaigner, this advocate of universal health care, this other Clinton, this, this
womancould actually win a presidential election?
Not that long ago, I considered her unelectable. Too many people consider her a witch, or (rhymes with "witch"). If you think the swift-boat ads against John Kerry were controversial, wait until the right unleashes
Would such a partisan campaign be bad for America? I found a Web site called stophernow.com, which is dedicated to stunting Hillary Clinton's campaign. I was expecting some real meanness there. One item ridiculed her for raising $1.5 million in campaign funds at her recent birthday party. There's a dart that won't stick. Another targets planks of her platform that are pretty basic democratic principles, and presents a reasonable debate of the issues. Nothing wrong with that.
Americans know by now to take with a grain of salt anything that opponents or other detractors say about a candidate. Like jurors weighing the case against a defendant, voters prefer to judge a candidate on his or her own merits, then consider the bigger picture. If Hillary is so widely disliked, why is she leading in fundraising and the opinion polls?
Her challenge will be to establish her own identity while taking advantage of her husband's eloquence on the stump. While the "Clinton" name carries some excess baggage, it might be easier for Americans to embrace at this point than "Barack Hussein Obama."
GOP's uphill battle.
1994 must seem so long ago to Republican faithful. The infamous "Contract with America" had already lost so much luster by 2000 that the party needed to be handed the White House by the Supreme Court. The GOP couldn't claim a clear-cut victory even in a nation of voters beset by Clinton fatigue.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration has always behaved as though it won by a landslide. The wingnuts on the right have overly influenced his policies, while his "politics of inclusion" included only those to the right of center. He failed to feel the pain of Katrina, and has pursued an odd new concept: Republican spendthriftism.
He has contaminated his party to the degree that any GOP presidential candidate with a viable message--we're still waiting--will have to survive the Bush plague, which is a much more dire condition than Clinton fatigue.
What have we learned?
Iraq has taught us that it's what happens
after"mission accomplished" that is the hard part. How we treat other diplomatic tests--Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, North Korea--
Defensefor a reason.
There is a difference between being the world's leader and the world's indoctrinator. Mexican President Vicente Fox recently labeled President Bush as "quite simply the cockiest guy I have ever met." Maybe that's because Bush thinks you can force-feed democracy to nations with centuries of unique cultural and religious history behind them. Well, maybe you can't.Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.