Inventing a Bush comeback

Has any politician's imminent political rebound been (wrongly) foretold more often than George W. Bush's? Recall that throughout 2005, with Bush's approval ratings in free-fall, the media kept insisting he was just about to turn things around. He never did. David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, even predicted that Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina would enhance his standing with the public. Oops. A year and a half later, Broder was at it again, writing that Bush was “poised for a political comeback.” Didn't happen. And who could forget Chuck Todd's declaration that if Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, Bush's approval rating would hit 50 percent by the following July? Democrats did win Congress -- but Bush's approval rating barely cracked 30 percent the following July.

Now Yahoo! News and McClatchy have decided the time is once again ripe for George W. Bush to convince Americans he wasn't a complete disaster of a president after all. But in order to do so, they have to fudge a few things. Like this:

Oh, really? There's an “apparent shift in public opinion” of Bush? Let's just click through to the article and see what the evidence is:

Americans blame Bush more than they do Obama, by about 3-1, for the weak economy and the deficits, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll this week.


He left office with some of the lowest approval ratings in American history, and they've changed little since.

A CBS-New York Times poll this month, for example, found that 27 percent of Americans had favorable opinions of Bush and 58 percent had unfavorable opinions. That was essentially unchanged since the week he left office.

A CNN poll found him gaining 10 percentage points in his first year out of office; a Fox News poll found him losing 11 points.

Huh. That doesn't sound like much of a “shift in public opinion,” does it? In fact, the only evidence in the article that such a shift is underway is -- wait for it -- Bush loyalists claiming a shift is underway:

“The rehab's well under way,” said Mark McKinnon , a Bush confidant who still bikes with the former president in Texas. ...

Sen. John Cornyn , R- Texas , thinks that the Bush comeback is under way.

“President Bush 's reputation is getting better by the day,” Cornyn said. “Bush's reputation will do nothing but improve over time.”


Bush insiders say that his refusal to join in the Obama-bashing that's prevalent in his party probably endears him to many Americans."

So, polling shows people still don't like Bush -- but his friends and “insiders” say he's getting more popular all the time (“probably.”) Naturally, that leads to a blaring headline declaring that Bush's reputation is “ready for a rebound” and a front-page declaration of an “apparent shift in public opinion.”

McClatchy's explanation for this coming Bush comeback is dubious as well:

Most notably, the war in Iraq may not turn out to be the political albatross it was while he was in office.

While problems persist there - and the weapons of mass destruction that Bush cited in ordering the invasion never were found - democracy does appear to be taking hold, the U.S. is on track to withdraw combat troops by August and even Democratic Vice President Joe Biden now calls the war in Iraq a success.

We never found the WMD we were looking for is a laughably sanitized account of Bush's dishonesty in taking the country to war. And it's relegated to a quick aside in the middle of a sentence about what a smashing success Bush's Iraq policy was. Sure, if media and historians agree to pretend that Bush's greatest Iraq-related sin was that we didn't happen to find WMD there, his reputation may bounce back a bit.

Next, McClatchy loses track of what the word “already” means:

Obama already has overrun and overshadowed the soaring budget deficits and record debt that Bush ran up while he was cutting taxes, launching two wars and expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Gross federal debt in fiscal 2001, Bush's first year as president, was $5.7 trillion ; it was $9.9 trillion in fiscal 2008, his last full year. Obama's budget projects that the gross federal debt will be $16.3 trillion at the end of fiscal 2012, the last full year of his first term.

“Already” can't reasonably refer to something that won't have happened by the end of fiscal 2012. Perhaps more importantly, this analysis supposes that the public won't think that current deficit spending is necessary because of factors Obama inherited from Bush. But they do!

Still, Americans blame Bush more than they do Obama, by about 3-1, for the weak economy and the deficits, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll this week.

Bush probably shouldn't pin his hopes for political resurgence on massive deficits the public blames him for. Sure, it's a better bet than expecting his handling of Katrina to endear him to the nation, but that's a pretty low bar. At this point, the most likely cause of a Bush comeback is the media disappearing his greatest sins and cheerleading for a rebound. Then again, that never worked in the past, so maybe it's time for the media to drop the Bush is going to stage a comeback any day now wishcasting? It looks a little ridiculous.