Poker Face

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

President Bush heads into tonight's State of the Union speech with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. The news media is making much of this fact, and of the idea that whatever Bush says or tries to do, it is bound to be tainted by the desperate situation in Iraq.

This morning's Washington Post says Bush "plans to reach out to the opposition... with new and recycled proposals on health care, energy, immigration and education, but the uproar over his decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq has eclipsed potential consensus on domestic policy."

"As he addresses a Congress controlled entirely by Democrats for the first time since he took office," the Post says, "Bush faces deep skepticism inside the chamber, even within the House Republican leadership..."

"The doubt on Capitol Hill reflects the continuing erosion of Bush's public support across the country."

Only twice in the past six decades has a president delivered his annual speech to the nation in a weaker condition in the polls: Harry S. Truman in the midst of the Korean War in 1952 and Richard M. Nixon in the throes of Watergate in 1974.

Today's New York Times quoted a CBS News poll that shows only 28 percent of Americans approving the way the president is handling his job, and more than twice as many, 64 percent, disapproving.

A USA Today/Gallup poll showed that Americans oppose, by a 59 to 38 percent margin, Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq.

"Americans remain unconvinced that it is necessary to send new troops to Iraq to gain victory," Gallup said, "and a majority favors withdrawal of troops within one year."

Some columnists have, predictably, laid the blame for all this at Bush's own feet.

On Sunday, The Times' Frank Rich said the public simply doesn't trust Bush or Dick Cheney.

"This White House gang is so practiced in lying with a straight face that it never thinks twice about recycling its greatest hits," he wrote.

Rich mentioned Bush's interview a week ago Sunday on 60 Minutes, in which the president claimed that before the war "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction" and that "the minute we found out" the WMD didn't exist he "was the first to say so." "Everybody, of course, was not wrong on WMD, starting with the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq. Nor was Mr. Bush the first to come clean once the truth became apparent after the invasion."

In May 2003, two days after the Defense Intelligence Agency found no biological weapons in trailers captured by American forces, Mr. Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."

At every stage of this war, Rich wrote, "the only administration plan was for a propaganda campaign to bamboozle American voters into believing 'victory' was just around the corner."

A column on the Web site says many people "are sensing something seriously troubling, even psychologically unbalanced, about the president as a decision-maker."

Because of "deeply hidden feelings of inadequacy," the president was compelled "to re-fight his father's war against Iraq," to win the duel with Saddam his father failed to finish, says the column, written by John P. Briggs, a former psychiatrist at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and J.P. Briggs II, a senior editor at the intellectual journal the Connecticut Review.

The president, they wrote, "seems to have entered a place in his psyche where he is discounting all external criticism and unpopularity, and fixing stubbornly on his illusion of vindication, because he's still ‘The Decider,' who can just keep deciding until he gets to success. It's hard not to feel something heroic in this position, but it's a recipe for bad, if not catastrophic, decisions."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan