Magazine article The American Prospect

Bush's Skunktails

Magazine article The American Prospect

Bush's Skunktails

Article excerpt

IN CONTRAST TO A PRESIDENT'S COATTAILS THAT sweep his party to congressional victories, skunktails have the reverse effect. Bush's skunktails consist of abuses of power, corruption, and incompetence now so widely recognized that, according to recent polls, those who "strongly disapprove" of his administration now equal those who merely "approve." Because turnout in midterm elections depends largely on intensity of preference, Bush's malodorous tails would seem to bode well for Democrats who need to win six more seats in the Senate and 15 in the House in order to take back Congress.

But there is an asymmetry of consequence between Republican and Democratic skunktails. Even before George W. came to Washington, Republican voters had low expectations of government. Presumably then, the fiascos of Katrina, Iraq, the Social Security drug benefit, the Bush fiscal policy, vote-buying and sweetheart deals with corporations, spying on Americans, Abu Ghraib, and the Dubai port deal, to list only a few of the misadventures of the last five years and three months, have not especially shocked Republicans. They have confirmed established Republican dogma that government cannot do anything well and is not to be trusted. Democratic voters' aspirations for government are higher. Although Democrats have not shared Bush's goals, the overall ineptitude and self-dealing that has marked his efforts may have caused Democratic voters to become more disillusioned about the capacities of government in general, thereby jeopardizing Democratic aspirants for Congress as much as Republican incumbents.

Recent polls from the Pew Research Center seem to confirm this. The public's negative feelings toward Congress are high and strikingly nonpartisan. Unfavorable ratings of both parties are at their highest levels since 1992, and the view of Congress as an institution is at its lowest point in over a decade--47 percent viewing it unfavorably and only 44 percent favorable. This marks a major change from as recently as January 2001, when 64 percent of the public expressed a favorable view of Congress.

Anti-incumbent sentiments are running unusually high this year regardless of party affiliation. Forty-nine percent of registered voters say most members should not be returned to office, up from 38 percent in October 2002. Thirty-six percent of independents say they don't want the incumbent in their district reelected. …

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