Since his election as Texas governor, since his election to the presidency and since Sept. 11, George W. Bush has transmogrified himself countless times. He has been met with positive results, notably his sky-high job approval rating, which the latest Zogby poll places at 82 percent.
He’s a cowboy who loves Cheez Doodles and has no clue what the hit show “Friends” is. During the campaign, he discussed the need to remove “terriers and bariffs,” confused Slovakia and Slovenia and opined about his desire to see “wings take dream.”
Now he talks about United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, the need to create an arms treaty with Russia that focuses on deterrence and the importance of government accountability.
What happened? When did this goofy governor, known for his love of steak and ability to give dating advice to reporters, become such a policy geek?
Granted, he’s still skilled at jocularism – in a speech two weeks ago discussing volunteer programs, Bush said, “There’s no bill that says people have to love each other. I would have signed the law” – but much of his silliness, the openhearted candor that so endeared him to voters, has dissipated, at least in public.
It might be a reflection of his maturity. It might be a reflection of Washington’s ability to suck the soul out of its unwitting residents. Or it might be a reflection that the president, like his predecessor Bill Clinton, is a master at reading people.
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote recently about the absurd amount of money the Bush administration has spent on polling, something he scorned during the campaign. Bush ridiculed polls and punditry, saying they were an inaccurate measure of public perception, and criticized the Clinton White House for its lustful desire for polling data.
“I think you got to look at … whether or not one makes decisions based on sound principles,” Bush said, debating Al Gore. “Or whether or not you rely upon polls and focus groups on how to decide what the course of action is. We’ve got too much polling and focus groups going on in Washington today.”
But Dowd reports that Bush, or more aptly, right-hand man Karl Rove, has spent close to $1 million on polls during the first year of the administration. That’s a lot more than one would expect, considering his revulsion to polls during the campaign.
Like most presidents, Bush probably uses polls to formulate his speeches and responses to domestic and foreign issues. There’s really nothing wrong with that – he is the president of the whole country, so it benefits him to keep his ears tuned to the desires of the people he was elected to lead.
There is, however, something wrong with the secretive, black arts manner in which this happens. Bush should at least be open about his attention to polls; Clinton’s fondness for them may have been obnoxious, but at least we knew about it. Not admitting to poll usage is only one part of the administration’s apparent disregard for the truth.
The Bush administration’s unwillingness to disclose the facts about this harmless matter is a microcosm of a much wider, far more frightening trend: A lapse into a kind of neo-McCarthyism where the truth is less important than the image.
As Bush takes his message of government accountability to the stump this week, one has to wonder whether he takes his own advice.
Becky is a junior studying journalism and history.