Are Bush's fortunes turning around?

Posted: Jun 15, 2006 12:05 AM

What a wacky world is politics. Just a few weeks ago it looked like the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate would be the drag on Republicans this November because of their tepid approach to immigration reform.

Then President Bush suddenly awakened from his zombie-like political sleep to post the best week of his second term so far.

Al Qaeda's Middle Eastern "bureau chief" was dispatched. Perhaps now he is off to enjoy the lovely host of virgins he and his ilk had said were promised him by his warped brand of Islam. It was a huge coup for the president.

Then Bush secretly winged his way to Iraq, where his well-received visit with troops was followed by a massive counterattack on Baghdad insurgents.

He even provided hope on illegal immigration by quickly mobilizing forces along the US-Mexico border.

Wouldn't it be fair now to expect the same overnight "flash" polls on President Bush's approval ratings that are a dime a dozen when he stubs his toe? Alas, they seemed nowhere to be found.

Such publicity may not matter. The clouds over the Bush administration have hung so dark and heavy for so long it's almost inevitable that they must lift to some degree and at some time, with polling numbers ascending with them.

Even the touted "big scandal" of the administration supposedly "outing" a former CIA "operative" is losing steam with the clearing of Karl Rove by prosecutors.

Could it be that George W. Bush's luck is finally turning around?

If so, his recovery in the polls will likely come in fits and starts. In war, good news is no news and most news is bad. It will remain the predominant sentiment of news-gatherers and pundits that a president with overall bad approval ratings is a man well worth keeping on the canvas.

But a sustained political recovery for Bush is possible. The key is for him to react to newfound popularity by reverting to the pre-9/11 humble Bush rather than remain the cocky, smirky chief executive he has too often seemed to be.

Just as the president looked to be rising from the dead, House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois announced that immigration reform will come only after a torturous negotiating process between the competing bills of the House and Senate. The GOP base prefers the House version, and the president likes the Senate one.

Most observers believe Hastert's decision means immigration reform with teeth probably won't bite its way into law in this election year.

How stupid can House leadership be? Just last week, a Republican congressman battling to hold on to a seat recently held by a corrupt Republican colleague in California said he cemented his victory only after publicly siding with the tough House immigration bill.

Insiders have searched for the logic behind Hastert's decision. Some conjectured that he might be immersed in legal problems of his own with regard to issues surrounding the Jack Abramoff "Indian lobbying matter." But take it from me: I've seen firsthand a speaker of the House who had ethics and other front-burner issues to contend with. None of that really impacts the flow of legislation. If anything, a popular position on an important issue can be a welcome distraction. Besides, few seriously believe Hastert is in any trouble.

A more likely scenario might be that the old "play-with-the-team" talk was delivered to Hastert, and so he is protecting Bush and the Senate by blurring the line in the sand drawn by the House for its more popular stand on immigration.

That would be dumb strategy by the White House and the Senate. The upper chamber and the president should be following the lead of the House.

Another possibility is that the Republicans are stalling the issue until the elections get closer. They could then pass an immigration bill to please their base, and do it without providing time for their opponents to react effectively.

But that strategy sounds just too smart for the players involved. It would mean pleasing Republican voters instead of appeasing Republican campaign contributors. I said Bush was rallying in the polls --not that he was readying to pull off a calculated political miracle.