Unpopular president

i-0d7af9f81d13918e313423afac7e2fe2-Bushapproval0707.pngPollster.com’s Professor Franklin’s latest update on Presidential approval is pretty astounding. Since some time in late April, approval has been in freefall, and where it will land, no one can know.

The lowest approval ever recorded was 23%, seven months before President Nixon resigned in a scandal over illegal wiretapping, a lost war, improperly fired federal prosecutors, and the abuse of executive privilege to cover it all up.

There’s been a lot of talk about the wisdom of pursuing impeachment against Bush and Cheney, and the parallel with the eminently impeachable Nixon certainly seems to bolster the case for it. If we set aside the question of what, exactly, constitutes a “high crime” or “misdemeanor,” a strong case can be made that something ought to be done when only a quarter of the public approves of the President’s actions. A better case for impeachment applies to the VP, given his lower approval, closer ties to the illegal outing of a secret agent (the prosecutor clearly felt that Libby’s lies were meant to protect Cheney, but couldn’t pursue that line of evidence because of the lies), and general indifference to the place of the Vice President in American government.


The pragmatic part of my brain would like to see Bush and Cheney cowed by their low approval, and for Congress to recognize that they will have to work around two obstructionists for the next 18 months. Presidential pronouncements should be taken to represent the opinion of at most two men with no political support. Tying up the only moderately functional branch of government with an impeachment process that probably would fail, and which would only give us a few months of a competent president if it succeeded, seems wasteful.

On the other hand, this administration has shredded the law and the Constitution in dramatic and disturbing ways. Letting those actions stand without some official Congressional censure will allow future presidents to point to this administration and say “look, they did it and neither the courts nor Congress objected.” If the House begins the impeachment process, that would draw a line in the sand. If impeachment fails, however, might it give some future authoritarian president an excuse (“Sure, Congress started impeachment hearings, but they didn’t impeach, so it must be OK”).

Furthermore, if Bush gets impeached, we’ll have to deal with President Cheney. Without having to work through Bush, Cheney’s dastardly efficiency would increase dramatically, with dangerous consequences. If Cheney gets impeached first, Bush can name a new VP, who will instantly become the front-runner for the 2008 Republican nomination, with potentially disastrous consequences (plus Congress will get tied in knots during the confirmation process). Since Speaker Pelosi would become President if both Bush and Cheney were impeached, I think it’s fair to think that there would be both political and principled opposition to simultaneously impeaching both men.

Congress will do what it will do about impeachment, and chances are, it will do nothing. That doesn’t mean it should do nothing with this data on Presidential approval. The President clearly has lost the American public, and if Congress wants to win that disaffected public over, all it has to do is take charge. That might mean some fights with the White House, but it also means finding policies that 67 Senators and 290 House members agree with, no matter what the President thinks. The occupation of Iraq is an issue where such a consensus is probably possible. If Congress passes a law ending our disastrous policies in Iraq, the public will back it, and will back impeachment if the President refuses to adhere to the law.

Comments

  1. #1 Agricola
    July 10, 2007

    You write: “a strong case can be made that something ought to be done when only a quarter of the public approves…” in reference to President Bush’s approval rating of @27.9% and apparently think that he should be impeached.

    Two questions:

    1) Should we recall Congress because its approval rating is lower? (http://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=27937

    2) Given that its approval rating is lower, why should they, or you, think that the citizens trust/want Congress to act?

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    July 10, 2007

    Maybe we should just recall the Republicans in Congress, since Democratic approval is higher (http://pollingreport.com/cong_dem.htm), majorities think it is a good thing that Democrats are in charge of Congress, and approval of Democratic leadership is also high (http://pollingreport.com/congress.htm). On individual policies as well, approval of the Democratic positions is higher than approval of the President’s position.

  3. #3 Romeo Vitelli
    July 10, 2007

    I’m not sure I’m seeing the logic in impeaching a lame-duck president who will be gone in two years anyway. And his VP with him. It should be mentioned that one of the main driving force behind the Republican campaign to impeach Bill Clinton was revenge over Nixon’s impeachment. No doubt the animosity of the Clinton debacle is fuelling the current Democratic campaign against Dubya. Which will fuel the next impeachment campaign, and the next, etc….

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    July 11, 2007

    2) Given that its approval rating is lower, why should they, or you, think that the citizens trust/want Congress to act?

    have you considered that maybe the reason overall congressional scores are so low is because they’ve basically had their pants down and bent over for this president?

    maybe if they showed half a spine and started impeachment proceedings after his first year in office, the american public wouldn’t be so pissed off at what has amounted to a Jeff-Gannon congress?

    It is indeed congressional LACK of performance that has americans so PO’d.

  5. #5 Ichthyic
    July 11, 2007

    It should be mentioned that one of the main driving force behind the Republican campaign to impeach Bill Clinton was revenge over Nixon’s impeachment.

    no it wasn’t. Nixon resigned.

    it was to regain control of the whitehouse.

    duh.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    July 11, 2007

    Reducing this to an issue of revenge ignores the actual underlying questions. I agree that impeachment probably gains us nothing at this point in the Bush presidency, but there are honest-to-god high crimes and misdemeanors to be brought before Congress. Bush contravened a federal law regarding wiretapping, a felony offense carrying jail time. Someone in the administration conspired to leak the identity of a covert agent, and Cheney was almost certainly a co-conspirator. That’s abuse of power and national security. What Nixon did was a gross abuse of power and a complete rejection of the Constitutional separation of powers.

    To compare those acts to a lie over a blowjob is just silly.

  7. #7 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    I’d love to hear more of the reasoning that equates unpopularity with high crimes and misdemeanors.

    Something must be done!

  8. #8 Josh Rosenau
    July 14, 2007

    The equation was not between poll numbers and high crimes and misdemeanors, but between “scandal over illegal wiretapping, a lost war, improperly fired federal prosecutors, and the abuse of executive privilege to cover it all up.” Not to mention the Bush administration’s felonious outing of a covert CIA agent. It’s worth noting that Nixon’s warrantless wiretapping at least existed in a grey area of the law. After Nixon’s abuses were revealed, Congress made it a felony to tap phone lines and other telecommunications devices without a warrant from either a regular court or a special class of secret warrants issued by a classfied court (unless that wiretapping was unlikely to sweep in “US persons,” i.e. citizens and residents of the US other than foreign agents or terrorists). The wiretapping program the administration has admitted to appears to violate that law, and the President’s repeated orders to maintain the program probably constitute a series of “high crimes.”

  9. #9 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    There we are again: you continue to reference popularity issues instead of crimes.

    What relevance does scandal or a lost war have? If we’d ‘won’ the war, however we define that, would it cease being a reason for impeachment?

    If the actual crimes you mention are sufficient, why even bring up the issues that merely cause Bush to be unpopular?

  10. #10 Josh Rosenau
    July 15, 2007

    What about: “illegal wiretapping, Ö improperly fired federal prosecutors, and the abuse of executive privilege to cover it all up”?

    I brought up the unpopularity because that was my actual topic. I brought up impeachment because of the parallels between Bush and Nixon regarding popularity and their offenses legal and political. Impeachment is a political process and popularity would (rightly or wrongly) factor into Congressional decisions about impeachment and their general response to Bush’s proposals.

    I also think that there is an interesting question to be asked about the consequences for a democratic society that allows its leader to remain in office for years after supermajorities disapprove of his work. Impeachment is the only redress against a president that we have, and is restricted to high crimes and misdemeanors. Do we need some way to rein in a President who is so unpopular?

  11. #11 emawkc
    July 17, 2007

    Do we need some way to rein in a President who is so unpopular?

    We already have one. It’s called “the next election.”

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    July 19, 2007

    A lot of people thought they did it with the last election, and are disappointed. 2006 was a referendum on the Bush presidency, and he lost.

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