I have often been quick to take President Bush and especially his political handlers and advisers to task.
The reason is that this column is devoted to examining public opinion. For many months, I've been voicing the ever-stronger belief that support for the Bush White House and the Republican-led Congress was crumbling.
Now those early observations have become fact, reflected in abysmal approval numbers for both the president and the Congress.
So, as I am apt to do, I'm taking an issue or, in this case, a person whom I've long viewed negatively and -- right when all seems darkest -- finding a reason to look at them in a softer light.
I have to ask if the American public is in touch with reality. Public surveys show that most people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. But circumstances don't support this reductive view.
There's certainly a lot of bad in the world.
Iraq is unpleasant even to think about. When an American soldier -- or anyone else -- is killed or hurt, we all bleed a little inside.
And yet, the scope of the war, including the length of its casualty lists, isn't nearly what it was in many past U.S. conflicts. That includes Vietnam, to which Iraq is often compared.
Backing for the war now comes only in trace amounts. But support for the troops remains high. And, critically, political forces show slow but sure signs of gradually disengaging us from Iraq.
Also bad: The Bush White House has long looked to be in the pocket of big business and special interest groups.
Vice President Dick Cheney has set a tone of general surliness, despite the fact that he is beloved by those who know him well.
From the Enron scandal to Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, this administration has been viewed as insensitive and unresponsive.
Now -- believe it or not -- the good.
Possibly by blind luck, but more likely because of a willful strategy of employing offense as the best defense against terrorism, apparently not one American has died from a terrorist attack on our shores since Sept. 11. Many attacks have happened overseas, and at least a handful are known to have been planned for here. They were foiled.
We have ascended from a crippling economic recession. The U.S. economy is robust -- at least for now -- with a bull stock market for almost four years. Most who want a job have one. Interest rates are still historically low, despite recent hikes.
On this stage, and under increasingly mixed reviews, the Bush White House has stumbled along with dramatic cry after cry about this or that "catastrophe."
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