Monday, December 30, 2002

The Foul Smell of Success

According to an article in the Star Tribune regarding their recent Minnesota Poll, 62% of Minnesotans approve of the way Bush is handling his job as President. Given recent voting behavior in the state that seems entirely plausible to me and simple to comprehend. However, since apparently the complexity of "62%" and "approval" may be too much for the average Star Tribune reader to understand and may lead to dangerous conclusions of broad based support for the President and his policies, the paper provides four quotes to help interpret exactly what this means.

The first quote is from a woman who provides nothing more than a shoulder shrug and a justification for non-blame rather than one of support or approval:

"I think he's doing what he can," said Elizabeth Butler, a Democrat from the Iron Range town of Buhl. "The economy's not that great, it's just the way things are going right now," said the 30-year-old mother of two who lost her job in the mining industry last year. "It's not anyone's fault, certainly not the president's."

Not exactly the kind of testimonial Bush can base a future campaign slogan on ("You can't blame me for 2001 - 2003!"), but at least it doesn't directly contradict the interpretation one would naturally take from the poll results. And yes, I'm sure among the 62% supporting Bush there is a small portion of those whose support is of this qualified, limp dishrag nature. However, here's where the unbiased and objective pretense express comes screeching to a halt. That quote is the only positive justification explaining the support for Bush in the entire article. The remainder of the piece consists of those explaining to us why 62% approval for Bush really isn't 62% approval for Bush.

First a political science professor explaining that the support expressed for Bush is in reality support only for the office of the presidency itself:

"We can never forget that we are still in the wake of the events of September 11, and those events were likely to unite the country behind whoever is president," said Gary Prevost, a political science professor at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict.

So he’s saying that if Al Gore or Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan were President, 62% support would be a given for any of them. In other words, the 62% may be a legitimate support figure, but Bush has nothing to do with it.

This assertion is followed by a second political science professor who cautions us that in reality, Bush doesn't have support of most Americans:

"Bush's personal approval numbers create a false impression that his administration has the full and unequivocal support of the American people," said political science professor Lawrence Jacobs of the University of Minnesota. "The nation is divided on the administration's policy of taking military action against Iraq."

I'm not exactly sure who would interpret a 62% approval among Minnesota adults as "full and unequivocal support of the American people" but Jacobs bluntly implies that President Bush is a controversial and divisive presence on the political landscape.

And then to really place these results in context, the Star Tribune concludes the article, which may I remind you was about the fact that 62% of Minnesotans express approval of President Bush, with this quote, from a retired sewer worker:

“I think he's hurting the economy," said Donald Edwin, a 72-year-old retired sewer worker who lives in rural Freeborn County, along the Iowa border. "I don't worry too much about Iraq. ... These are just hard times, and they're getting harder."

I’ve always felt there were numerous similarities between political science professors and sewer workers, but I didn’t necessarily think their analytical skills were among them. Now I know, and I think you can add Star Tribune reporters to this brotherhood of stench as well.


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