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Is Bush as popular as the media say?

By Alan Maass | June 6, 2003 | Page 7

IN THE weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, opinion polls showed a majority of people opposed to a war without the approval of the United Nations (UN). But when the U.S. launched its attack under precisely this condition--without UN backing--support for the war surged to 70 percent.

The White House just succeeded in forcing through a second round of massive tax cuts, primarily for the rich, which most people oppose, according to polls. But George W. Bush's job approval rating remains above 60 percent. How is Bush getting away with this--carrying out unpopular policies that benefit the elite at the expense of the majority, yet maintaining high popularity ratings compared to previous presidents?

One place to start answering the question is to look at what the polls actually mean. The results of opinion surveys can vary widely depending on how questions are asked, what groups of people are asked the questions, and how their answers are interpreted.

Even more important are the contradictions in the results. Bush has had a high job approval rating since the September 11, 2001, attacks. But on most important issues, polls show that his actual policies are widely opposed--sometimes by very large majorities. Thus, a recent New York Times article headlined "Bush's Support Strong Despite Tax Cut Doubts" reported that 81percent of those surveyed said "the country should make sure Americans have access to health care, rather than cut taxes."

It's impossible to square that statistic with the idea that two-thirds of people approve of the way Bush is doing his job--when tax cuts at the expense of health care and other vital government programs have been the top domestic priority of his administration. Rather than an endorsement, what these contradictory results really show is that Bush hasn't been exposed for what he actually is--a right winger determined to implement policies that are unpopular with all but a small minority of hard-line Republicans.

Why has Bush not been exposed? For one thing, the White House public relations machine has worked overtime to hide the truth--concocting a range of fraudulent justifications for the Iraq war, for example, and shamelessly claiming that the Bush's tax cut legislation was primarily about creating jobs.

But the administration could never get away with this if the Democrats weren't so spineless. The party's leaders fell in line behind Bush's war on Iraq, making only the most timid criticisms.

And their favorite argument against the Bush tax cut giveaway is that it will cause a big budget deficit and reduce funding for homeland security. As if the way to mobilize opposition to Bush is by appeals to fiscal responsibility and a tougher war on terror!

The toothless "watchdogs" of the corporate media should be held responsible, too. With such a narrow debate inside the Washington establishment, it shouldn't be a surprise if large numbers of people accept at least some of the propaganda.

At the very least, this kind of climate will lead people to become cynical about the possibility of any kind of change. This is why struggle is so important--in setting a different political tone not only for the people directly involved, but for a wider audience who see their own discontent given concrete expression. Thus, when a mass international antiwar movement took to the streets in the weeks before the war on Iraq, people far beyond those who demonstrated gained the confidence in their own doubts about the war.

Since the fall of Baghdad, outward expressions of opposition to the war have grown smaller, and those who questioned the invasion have been pushed onto the defensive. Still, there remains a significant minority of people who aren't about to accept Washington's lies.

And the very arrogance of the Bush administration's offensive is sowing the seeds of future opposition--driving people to fight back in small struggles, whether in workplaces, in neighborhoods and communities, on high school and college campuses. The job of socialists today to be a part of every one of these struggles that we can--and show how they are connected to the project of building a broad mass opposition to the ruling class offensive led by the Bush administration.

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