Thursday, September 08, 2005

BUSH THE ISOLATIONIST: Knight-Ridder reports, in a typically fearless and independent analysis, that George W. Bush's patented style of running his presidency -- avoiding personal or face to face contact with critics; refusing to acknowledge unpleasant realities; valuing and rewarding loyalty over competence; rarely exposing himself to sources of information outside his inner circle, which he carefully culls to eliminate anyone with dissenting views -- is once again ruling his response to the Gulf Coast's hurricane disaster.

As President Bush flew this week to the Gulf Coast for his second post-Katrina visit, an aide said the trip reflected Bush's usual routine of "seeing as much as possible and getting information from different places."

Not quite.

Bush did not visit with any angry evacuees in New Orleans. As Katrina approached, Bush and his top aides spent days apparently unaware that New Orleans might be flooded - despite many warnings, some from inside his own administration. Afterwards, he heaped praise on officials responsible for the slow and initially disorganized disaster-relief efforts. His aides dismiss demands that Bush hold someone accountable for failure, saying that's merely a distracting "blame game."

None of this should be a surprise. Bush has a long record of avoiding critics, rewarding loyalty even in the face of failure and shunning - even punishing - those who disagree with him. It's a management style that shapes how he governs - disdaining compromise with Democrats in Congress, for example - and one that brushes off whole sectors of the American electorate.

K-R's staff reporter, Steven Thomma, makes a very interesting point. Although Bush's absolutist, uncompromising style is what enables him to retain the fierce loyalty of his core base, it is also precisely the aspect of his personality that is sending his approval ratings to the basement. What his most dogmatic fans see as a strength is actually gravely harming Bush's ability to retain the support of the rest of America -- which is most of America. Thomma notes that other presidents who experienced similar dips in popularity were able to weather the storms because they knew how to appeal to a broader audience.

His style of isolating himself from unwelcome voices pleases his core supporters, who don't want him to compromise, but it sacrifices the broader public appeal that helped Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton weather second-term setbacks. One new poll, from the independent Pew Research Center, suggests he is losing support even from Republicans and conservatives.

To Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the Bush administration's response to Katrina suggested "a real sense of arrogance. Loyalty and never admitting a mistake matters more than the truth. It has a Nixon feel to me."

Bush allies insist he is engaged and pressing the government to fix all hurricane-related problems. But the public isn't much impressed, judging by his plummeting polls. One new survey by independent pollster John Zogby shows Bush would lose a hypothetical election to every modern president, including the much-maligned Jimmy Carter. [Emphasis mine.]

Read the whole thing. It's an awesome article.

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