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Popularity Isn't Everything

From the June 16, 2005 Wall Street Journal: Perspective on the president's waning poll numbers.

12:00 AM, Jun 17, 2005 • By FRED BARNES
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The president's bold foreign policy has caused trouble in unexpected places. Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio cited anti-Americanism in Europe and elsewhere as one of his reasons for opposing the nomination of John Bolton as Bush's ambassador to the United Nations. Sen. Mel Martinez, (R., Fla.), whom the White House handpicked to run last fall, called last week for Bush to close down the prison for terrorists at Guantanamo in Cuba. And Bush's crusade for democracy as the top priority in foreign affairs has drawn few cheers from outside the ranks of political dissidents around the world.

Voters are notorious for despising political warfare. They made an exception in Clinton's case, absolving him from blame for the impeachment battle. But Bush's effort to change the ideological balance of the federal judiciary has created a furor. Reagan also tried to move the judiciary to the right, but Bush has gone about it in a more determined and sustained manner, provoking stronger opposition and a bigger struggle than Reagan did.

And then there's Social Security reform. Bush has bravely gone ahead on this issue in spite of qualms by Republicans in Congress and against a lesson offered in A Charge To Keep, his own 1999 autobiography, "It's hard to win votes for massive reform unless there is a crisis," he wrote. An addendum to that lesson might be: But if you go ahead anyway, you're sure to face massive opposition. Bush has.

For Schwarzenegger, there's an outlet for dealing with his proposals. He's chosen to put them up to a vote of Californians in a referendum this November. Bush's only outlet is Congress and that's chiefly for domestic issues. His best strategy may be to promote his policies more aggressively than ever, ignore falling poll numbers, and hope for the best. Crossing the finish line of his presidency with record low popularity may turn out to be a sign of substantive achievement and lasting reform.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard. His book on President Bush, Rebel-in-Chief, will be published by Crown Forum next year.