The question of competence.

'œThis might be the most inept administration in American history.' What shocked me about this statement when I heard it last week, said James Klurfeld in Newsday, was not its content'”the left has been calling George Bush incompetent since he was governor of Texas'”but its source: a high-ranking and 'œhard-line' Republican. As even his supporters have come to doubt his judgment, the Bush presidency is 'œcoming unraveled before our eyes.' A long winter of mishandled crises has sent Bush's approval ratings plummeting to a Nixonian 34 percent. The war in Iraq isn't close to being over, despite almost three years of fighting, $300 billion, and more than 2,100 American lives. A just-released videotape shows 'œa detached' Bush at a briefing the day before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, listening passively to dire warnings, and asking no questions. For conservatives, the final straw may have been Bush's support for the takeover of six U.S. ports by a firm based in Dubai, said Byron York in The New Republic. That wildly unpopular deal has enabled Democrats to position themselves as tougher on national security than the GOP. Republicans are not only 'œfurious.' They're 'œfrightened.'

They should be, said Alan Abramowitz in The Washington Post. Whenever they hit rough waters in the past, Bush and Karl Rove always relied on the cynical strategy of polarizing the nation; if the public was split down the middle, they could be assured that at least half the voters were on their side. But 'œcompetence is not a partisan issue,' and both Republicans and Democrats want a president capable of doing the job. In recent months, the public has come to feel that 'œno one is really in charge in the Bush White House''”and the Dubai Ports World debacle only strengthened that impression. To the chagrin of Republican loyalists, the White House admitted that Bush 'œdidn't even know about the deal' until it appeared in the newspapers. Bush's poll numbers may look similar to those of Nixon, but the president he is really starting to resemble is Jimmy Carter, whose political fate was sealed once the public 'œstarted to perceive him as in over his head in the Oval Office.'

What a stunning change in fortunes, said Andrew Sullivan in the London Sunday Times. After 9/11, Bush won the support of heartland America by fashioning himself as a swaggering Texas tough guy, 'œthe man who gets the big picture of what we're up against.' Supporters were willing to overlook Bush's occasional gaffes and blunders, reasoning that this was simply the price a nation paid for having a 'œstrong leader' who was too busy defending America to sweat the small stuff. But suddenly Bush is 'œlooking a little wobbly to the gung-ho set.' Iraq is a mess, and Iran is defiantly firing up its uranium-enrichment centrifuges. At home, Bush has refused to go along with heartland populists who want to prevent Mexican and other Latin American immigrants from crossing U.S. borders. The 'œJohn Waynes' who loved Bush in 2001 are deserting him, opening the door for the Democrats to be reborn as a new, populist party that knows what Americans want.

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Don't write Bush off just yet, said David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times. As bad as the president's personal approval ratings are today, he continues to dominate the national agenda. He recently managed to get two staunch conservatives confirmed to the Supreme Court. New limits on abortion are likely. Though Democrats grumble about his tax cuts, they haven't the political courage to vote against extending them. The movement to provide vouchers for private schools continues to pick up momentum. With almost three years left in Bush's term, it's far too soon to be 'œclosing the books on Mr. Bush's legacy.'

Richard J. Davis

The New York Sun

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