The most recent approval-ratings slide suffered by President George W. Bush saw him dip a bit to around 50 percent. Political observers should be careful not to read too much into this minor decline in popularity.
The Bush administration knows exactly what it's doing. The White House is more than happy to suffer from a brief, early second-term drop in the polls. They don't mind because they are creating what is shaping up to be a brilliant strategy in Congress.
Yes, the president is stubbornly bulldozing ahead on his quest to modify the Social Security system. And yes, the proposal is so convoluted and full of holes that it has engendered criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats. Take this open GOP dissent as a tip-off that the whole passion play over Social Security reform may have been authored with a hidden method to the apparent madness.
Even as the White House chases its tail and takes a lashing from top Republican brass over the reform policy, it is at the same time starting to cash in chits on other issues from Republicans -- and from many red-state Democrats who are scared about their re-election chances next year.
A prime example was the recent passage of new sweeping bankruptcy laws. Such laws traditionally would have drawn near-lockstep opposition from Senate Democrats. Many pundits have widely condemned the huge number of Democrats that abandoned the party's position to vote with Bush.
The truth is that many of these Democrats are understandably concerned with their own political self-preservation. The last thing they want is to limp into the 2006 election season having no message except "down with the president." Many have already tried that. It didn't work.
Imagine being a Democrat that's running for re-election in a state where Bush won handily and the state legislature has swung solidly into the control of Republicans. There are plenty of states fitting that profile.
In Oklahoma, Republicans made huge inroads into legislative power. Now the Democratic governor is trying desperately to survive by adopting GOP initiatives -- and even taking them to new heights.
Fear among moderate Democrats soon to face re-election is more widespread and deep than is believed by many. This is especially true in the U.S. Senate. The fear is amplified by the partisan frenzy of many Republicans who in other circumstances might balk at some of the president's proposals. But since Bush is being attacked on Social Security, they feel the urgent need to support him as he takes it on the chin for his activist agenda.