Is Bush still Relevant? Where is Our Leadership Coming from?

Every election cycle where an incumbent is not running for re-election, a lame duck syndrome begins to overtake the outgoing administration.    The country’s legislative/policy mechanism slows way down until the election is over and only gains little traction before the new Congress and President take office.   Some president’s have been more effective than others in casting aside the lame duck title.  James R. Hedtke writes,

Despite being lame duck presidents, Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton all saw their support scores in Congress rise in their final year in office. Reagan and Clinton had higher approval ratings in their second term than in their first, and each got a lot accomplished. Even with impeachment, Clinton’s support scores in Congress rose in his last two years in office. A Republican Senate approved more treaties in Clinton’s last two years as president than a Democratic Senate did in his first two years.” 

But, those mentioned as being effective had the top three approval ratings leaving office since 1956: Clinton – 65%, Reagan – 63%, and Eisenhower – 59%.  Despite losing some of their bully pulpit, the fact that they have remained popular allowed them to continue to push their policies forward.

So that comes to the current Lame Duck President – George W. Bush.  Currently, his approval rating according to Gallup stands at 25%.  Assuming his approval rating remains steady, it will be significantly lower than the second lowest – Jimmy Carter (34%).  With his status and and low approval rating, how effective is G.W.?  Not very.  This economic crisis clearly demonstrates how little pull he has on Capitol Hill or speaking to the American people.  Countless media reports discuss his futility in being able to rally House members to support the economic rescue package, even among Republicans.  His nearly daily ‘Rose Garden Comments’ through the passage of the bill did very little to alleviate fears of the American public or persuade Congressional members.  He simply hasn’t been relevant.  If there is anytime a president should be effective, regardless of overall popularity, is during a crisis.  This country has always rallied behind their leaders in times of hardship.  Bush had that ability on 9/11, even though he lost the popular vote less than year earlier and had only a 51% approval rating on September 10th, 2001.  But this isn’t confide domestically.  China today was talking beyond the President, directly to McCain anda Obama expectations and policy that should be followed with their election.

During the current economic crisis, the country has been looking directly to the candidates for assurances and solutions.  Congress is acting in harmony, not with the President, but with the wishes of Obamaand McCain.  In some ways, this makes sense.  One of these two men will be responsible for the long-term effects of what Congress and the Executive Branch is currently wrestling.  But President Bush’s lame duck status is uniquely different.  With such low approval ratings and lack of respect internationally, George W. Bush has been nearly fully relegated to a roll that is similar to that of the title of President in many other countries – ceremonial.   He’ll hold dinners for dignitaries, talk to the American people, and continue (unfortunately) to be the face of the nation to the World.  But in any kind of relevant capacity, he might as well lace up the cowboy boots, head to Crawford, and clear some debris from the ranch.  If there was a crisis in the next 26 days prior to the election, it will be the two candidates who will need to coordinate with Bush to ensure their is an effective response to the crisis.

It makes ‘acting presidential’ more important during the final days of the campaign for two candidates.  The country is in desperate need of leadership and the ability to transcend political rhetoric and provide real leadership.  This leadership should not be confused withdeveloping new policy.  I concur with the philosophy of Lawrence Lessig:

Candidates for the presidency are not governing, and shouldn’t be encouraged to govern. They should be telling us how they would govern, and I certainly hope that neither would govern with the kind of hyper-aware-poll-driven sensitivity that must drive a political campaign. We need a kind of political hearsay rule here: Your values, your approach, your basic philosophy — all that is admissible. But you’re plan for the latest crisis, crafted by a campaign staff working 24/7 over the last week — inadmissible.

The benefit is two-fold.  First, as much as the negative attacks get media attention and hypothesize as to what type of administration a candidate would bring, actual leadership would demonstrate that their governing philosophy – a huge opportunity to the candidate(s) that takes advantage.  The independent voter, who really values their vote and is trying to make an informed decision, gets to clearly see the differences in the candidates. Secondly, a candidate who takes this ‘high road’ will be somewhat insulated from the attacks by the other party. People begin to perceive the candidate as presidential and the/a leader.

I intentionally left out a discussion of McCain and Obama because the blog focuses on Bush.  But, I believe, it’s clear that Obama’sability to take this ‘high road’ is helping him cement his lead.  It’s not that he is going to add much more at this point, he’s probably close to his ceiling in voter support.  But, the strength of that lead is currently getting stronger.  People who are supporting him, want to see him as president and believe he can be effective in that role.  If he can stay above the fray and provide true leadership, his supporters will get the ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling they need in order to, without reservation, support him.   If McCain continues down this pathof negativity, he is only helping obama look presidential.  McCain may not win by going back and focusing on the issues and showing real leadership, but he certainly can stem some of the firming of support and make the electorate re-evaluate both candidates.  This negativity will not be a game-changer.


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