President Bush's presidency was sinking precipitously shortly before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On August 27, 2001, the Zogby survey reported that the President had only a 50% positive rating and a negative rating of 49%. Thirteen days later, on September 9th, a Washington Post-Gallup poll gave him somewhat better stats - 55% approval and 41 disapproval, but the polling by the Post and Gallup showed that the unfavorable view of Bush in September actually had increased by10% increase from August.
What these surveys suggest is that eight months into Bush's controversial ascension to the presidency he was already wearing thin his welcome with the American people. This was at a time when his relations with Congress were tense and Democrats had regained control of the Senate. Despite Bush's success with his tax cut bill, he was in a public fight over stem cell research, followed by education, immigration and the question of the Social Security "lockbox." And he was simultaneously pressing for a retrogressive domestic agenda.
After the shocking assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Zogby showed Bush's popularity soaring to 82% positive and only 17% negative. The Washington Post-Gallup poll had Bush even higher in the eighties. From then on -- really until this year -- Bush maintained a plus rating with the American people, almost solely tied to 9/11. Like America's mayor, Rudy Guiliani, who on 9/10 had been one of the most unpopular leaders ever of New York City, Bush was elevated to political nobility by Bin Laden kamikazes.
The image of Bush fighting back - something, by the way, which any American president would have had to have done under the same circumstances or he certainly would have faced impeachment - allowed Bush to catapult over the failures of his first eight months, and push forward an agenda that, under other conditions, might have been rejected as reactionary. And, in 2002, despite a threadbare domestic record, Bush was able to increase Republican margins in the Congressional elections. In 2003, of course, he launched his war on Iraq, despite outright opposition by the UN, his inability to find weapons of mass destruction, his lack of success in connecting Hussein to Al Qaeda, the looting and mayhem that followed Saddham's downfall, and the insurgency that sprung up thereafter.
Then, in 2004, he won the narrowest re-election race of the modern era, once again with relentless Rovian appeals to 9/11. His fear strategy enabled him to overcome a first-term record that was actually hurting him among the electorate, accounting for John Kerry's close finish. For Bush had turned Clinton's surplus into a massive debt, gutted environmental regulations, enacted an unwieldy Medicare prescription bill, ducked national health insurance needs, weakened mine safety regulations, reduced scientific research funding, ended trust-busting, and deepened American poverty. And his foreign policy record was hardly better, renowned mainly for its repudiation of global treaties which the US had once supported and its shift toward unilateralism that frayed relations with all of our allies around the planet.
Today Bush is in deep trouble in the polls. He has gone downhill since February 2005, when his favorability rating last stood above 50%. His positive numbers now hover between 34-40%. His collapse follows the disasters he mishandled, including the increasingly vicious Iraq war, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the botching of the Katrina hurricane, the Social Security and Medicare calamities, the controversial Dubai port deal and others. But what must be especially disheartening for him is that his ratings even in his own party are now 10-15% lower than his previous level of support.
All of this suggests that George Bush is returning to what he was always viewed as before the 9/11 catastrophe - namely a mediocrity. George Bush, without Bin Laden, would almost certainly never have been reelected president in 2004. With the passage of almost five years since 9/11, and the calming of emotions from 2001, the American people are beginning to view the Bush presidency for what it really has always been - one of the most inept and feckless presidencies since that of Millard Fillmore.