Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » May 2005 » Trying to Milk it for all it's Worth...

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05/14/2005: Trying to Milk it for all it's Worth...

The Bolton nomination is not the only “over reaching” coming from the While House and GOP this season. Andrew Ferguson has written this piece for The Weekly Standard: Operation Overreach: The downside of big-government conservatism..

”Laura Bush delivered a lot of jokes during her now-famous stand-up routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, but one of them touched a real sore spot. Not the joke about milking the horse. This one: "I said to him the other day, 'George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later.'" When the joke was replayed over and over again on TV, a cry rose up from every corner of this sweet and verdant land: "No, no, George, don't stay up later! You just go on to bed! You're doing too much already! Really!"

Or maybe that was just me. In any case, Mrs. Bush's joke points to something important in our present political moment, four very busy months into her husband's very busy second term. It even sheds light on those discouraging poll numbers that have lately troubled all the president's men and his publicists in the press. The president himself, of course, pays no attention to polls.

And a good thing, too, because Bush's job approval ratings are now at the lowest point of his time in office-down to 47 percent in the latest Washington Post poll, 48 percent in USA Today's. In the Post poll, the number of people who "strongly approve" of his job performance, which for most of the last four years has roughly matched the percentage of people who "strongly disapprove," has fallen to 25 percent, while the strong disapprovers have surged to 38 percent.

A solid majority, 56 percent, approve of Bush's handling of the "U.S. campaign against terrorism." From there, the numbers head south. Only 42 percent approve the way Bush has conducted the Iraq war, and 54 percent now say they believe the war should never have been fought. Forty percent approve his handling of the economy. With gas prices high, approval of Bush's energy policy is low: 35 percent. Even lower, though, is the percentage approving Bush's signature domestic initiative: 31 percent approve, and 64 percent disapprove, of the president's handling of Social Security.

These gloomy data follow the Terri Schiavo affair, when very large majorities--up to 70 percent in some polls--expressed their distaste for the effort by Bush and congressional Republicans to encourage federal courts to take up her case.

Scanning the poll numbers, Dean David Broder of the Washington Post announced that Bush is the victim of "overreach." John Podhoretz, in the New York Post, came up with a better tag and got closer to the nub. The public, he wrote, may be suffering from "Issue Fatigue"--an overload of public policy proposals and the politicking that goes with them. "While [Bush] refused to allow himself to rest after the 2004 election," Podhoretz wrote, "the American people seem to have desperately wanted a break." Both Podhoretz and the Dean are on to something, but what if they don't go far enough? Bush's problem may be more elemental. Overreach, and the resulting fatigue of the public, may be the inevitable consequences of the way Bush approaches his job--it might, in other words, be built into his governing philosophy

Conservative reform, in fact, turns out to be a lot like liberal reform. Each involves a whirlwind of government activity. Each is a formula for politics without end--splendid indeed for politicians and government employees, but a bit tiring for the rest of us. Who can blame the public for beginning to show its weariness? The fatigue came to a head in the Schiavo case, and the president's poll numbers have yet to recover.


A lack of modesty and self-restraint is one excellent reason Americans grew to despise liberals in the first place. The high-water mark of American liberalism came in 1993 and 1994, when President Clinton and his wife, under the guise of "health care reform," decided they would assume control of one-seventh of the nation's economy in order to make it more rational and fair. Voters responded by handing the federal legislature to the Republican party. History may record that what offended them wasn't liberalism but busybodyism--the endless, frenetic search by elected officials for ever-new ways to make the country more fabulous. Bush and his Republicans are close to proving that busybodyism can become a creature of the right as well as the left.

And the public seems not to like it, whichever direction it comes from. Maybe, under certain circumstances, what people really do want--pace Laura Bush--is a president who goes to bed early and wakes up late. Maybe they wouldn't mind a president who spent a lot more time on his ranch, trying to milk the horses instead of us."

Karen on 05.14.05 @ 05:10 AM CST

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