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Bush vs Pelosi – Who’ll be the bigger millstone?

July 7, 2007

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Will the unpopularity of Bush or that of Congress be a bigger hindrance to their respective parties?

In additional to the polarisation of American politics, another puzzle is the extreme unpopularity of both the Democratic controlled Congress and President Bush with approval ratings of 24 and 32 percent approval respectively. This unpopularity is notable given their complete disagreement over nearly every issue, especially foreign policy. The fact that Congress as well as Bush is deeply unpopular also upsets some the assumption that the administration’s foreign policy, as opposed to the way it has been communicated, is inherently unpopular. Similarly, my gut feeling is that the failure of the immigration bill was due to the fact that neither President Bush nor Harry Reid were prepared to make the case for the bill (or even speak about it at all), forcing John McCain to shoulder the task of winning support for it alone. However, the most important question for 2008 is whether the unpopularity of Bush will hurt Republicans more than the unpopularity of Congress will hurt Democrats.

Ultimately, there is little doubt that Bush’s unpopularity will matter more since it is the responsibility of the occupant of the White House to use the ‘bully pulpit’ which of Presidency to seize the agenda, even if the other side controls the legislative branch of government. After all, Regan, Truman and Johnson were able to force through their agenda through an otherwise hostile Congress, while Clinton was able to effectively compromise in the wake of the 1994 Congressional elections. However, by deciding to spend their time in a futile attempt to force a withdrawal from Iraq, at the expense of the economic agenda which they made their centrepiece of the 2006 campaign, the Democrats have revealed the direction a Clinton or Obama presidency will take. They have also left the door open for a Republican who is able to both address the moderate parts of the domestic agenda that Congress promised and also effectively make the case for an interventionist foreign policy.

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