Posted: Jul 27, 2001 12:00 AM
About a month ago we published a questionnaire on President Bush. The poll was spurred on by news that Bush's poll numbers were dipping amid widespread concern over the California energy crisis, environmental concerns and a shakeup in the congressional balance of power with the defection of Rep. Jim Jeffords to the Democrats. At best, the defection of Rep. Jim Jeffords distracted the public from what should have been Bush's first major victory: a $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan that breezed through the House and Senate with bipartisan support. At worst, the defection reinforced the perception that Bush is a political lightweight incapable of pulling the necessary strings to keep his own party in check. Before the defection was even official, the president found himself butting heads with new Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Daschle, who quickly exploited the Senate shake-up to declare Bush's missile defense plan "DOA." Soon thereafter, the president's poll numbers slipped even further, evoking such key questions as: Should President Bush simply co-opt the opposition's major platforms to govern from the middle, as both Nixon and Clinton did when they lost control of Congress? That is to say, should Bush compromise his agenda, or would he be better served by digging in his heels around his campaign promises and keeping his political character intact? Below are your responses: 1. Do you think that the tax cut plan will benefit Americans? Fifty-five percent of the poll respondents favored the tax-cut plan outright, while 45 percent of the respondents felt that the needy should receive a larger piece of the pie. For those who favored the plan, their reasoning appears to be straightforward: They like money, have always liked money and look forward to receiving a couple hundred dollars more of it. 2. Will this tax plan cause cutbacks in needed government programs? Thirty percent of the respondents worried that the tax plan would adversely affect Social Security, education reform and other cherished programs. The overwhelming majority, however, felt more comfortable paring back government influence and spending at least some portion of the budget surplus in the manner THEY saw fit. 3. With the shift in power in the Senate, does President Bush now have to embrace a good part of the Democratic program? Two of this country's more savvy politicians - President Clinton and President Nixon - both stabilized their own political footing by pouching the major ideas of their opposition. In such a manner, Clinton managed to salvage his early defeats and ascend in the popular consciousness as a coalition builder. With this memory still wafting around the zeitgeist, 53 percent of the poll respondents went the pragmatic route, recommending that President Bush do the same. 4. Will Bush become a more effective president by forgoing some of his campaign promises and cooperating with the Democratic Senate in a bipartisan way? Given the pragmatic response to question No. 4, the response to this question seems somewhat surprising. Sixty percent of the respondents felt that the President should dig in his heels around his campaign promises. Whereas the responses to the prior question reveal a certain awe for Clinton's ability to navigate troubled waters, this question implies a certain fatigue for Clinton's tendency to adapt whatever persona would carry the moment. Plainly stated, the people want a president who at least seems to stand for something. 5. Is President Bush open to the ideas of political moderates? Thirty-five percent of the poll respondents believe that Bush can govern from the middle. The rest look to his faith-based initiatives, education reforms and environmental proposals and see a cabinet that is unshakably conservative on the issues that have the greatest impact on Americans. 6. Will President Bush's missile defense plan facilitate world peace and stability? Fifty percent were emphatic that Bush's missile defense strategy accounted for the real threat of the new millennium, rogue states, and therefore represented a necessary evolution in our national defense. The other 50 percent worried that the plan would heighten international tensions and initiate a new arms race. 7. Is the press treating President Bush fairly? Given that the liberal press regularly delights in reductive characterizations of our president as an intellectual lightweight, 98 percent of the respondents answered with a resounding "no." 8. Is Jenna Bush's drinking newsworthy? Seventy percent of respondents said that such episodes are characteristic of most young adults in this country, and therefore of little worthiness as genuine news items. The other 30 percent were comfortable with the idea that while gossip is rarely newsworthy; it is often what America wants. 9. Will the Democratic Senate block Bush's efforts? Before he had officially become the new Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Daschle was already hard at work declaring his intention to murder various Bush initiatives. That is, as they say, a clue. Not surprisingly, 94 percent of the respondents answered "yes" to this question. 10. Do you know enough about Bush's education plan to support it? Fifty-five percent felt comfortable supporting Bush's proposed education reforms. The fact that more people aren't familiar with this plan signals a real failure by the president's PR people, given the bipartisan nature of the reforms and their ability to haul public education along in this country. 11. In terms of education, energy and Social Security, would you consider President Bush a bold reformer? Forty percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative, while 60 percent felt that the president was merely toting all the usual conservative tunes. The notion that Bush is adhering to the traditional conservative orthodoxy seems at least somewhat surprising given the fact that, thus far, he has: broached the "third rail of politics" by suggesting that we transfer our Social Security taxes into privately managed universal savings accounts. He has also championed tax-cut programs and economic incentives to encourage the development of small businesses and actively engaged the support of religious organizations to provide positive role models or even the expectation of success in poor neighborhoods. Certainly the future owes itself to this sort of bold leadership. Whether President Bush will be able to rally his troops and overcome negative characterizations remains to be seen.