NEW YORK — By August 2003, California Gov. Gray Davis’ approval rating had plunged to 22 percent. Two months later, he lost a special recall election.
Now it’s President George W. Bush’s turn to take a drubbing. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds that only 37 percent of Americans think he’s doing a good job, a record low for him and a dangerous drop below the historical benchmark of 40 percent.
“When a president falls below 40 percent approval in public opinion polls — as President Bush has done twice in the past two months — it’s usually a sign of serious political danger,” writes Richard Benedetto in USA Today.
“Since 1950, five of the eight other presidents who fell below 40 percent — Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — lost their bids for re-election or opted not to run again. A sixth, Richard Nixon, was overwhelmed by the Watergate scandal and resigned. Only two, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, turned things around.”
But even Clinton never regained his former appeal. His handpicked successor, Vice President Al Gore, won the 2000 election by such a narrow margin that Republicans were able to steal it away.
The “political capital” Bush claimed after the 2004 election has vanished over the last year. Dead Americans piled up in Iraq and New Orleans, his closest political allies were indicted for corruption and treason, gas prices soared, and his party’s rightwing Christianists stabbed him in the back over the Harriet Miers’ nomination. All of Bush’s best-laid plans — to privatize Social Security, pass another round of tax cuts for the wealthy, and possibly expand his wars to Syria and Iran — lie in ruins.
And it’s only going to get worse now that his moderate and centrist Republican allies in Congress are beginning to peel away: some to appeal to swing voters in next year’s midterm elections, others to align themselves with John McCain’s incipient 2008 presidential campaign and some simply because Bush’s poll numbers make him radioactive.
Bush, a tiger who so recently assigned himself the right to assassinate American citizens at will, has been defanged. He’s as pathetic and powerless as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. He is done.
“Lame duck” doesn’t cut it. Unless Bush resigns, the world’s sole superpower faces the dismal prospect of three long years under a dead duck president. Who will extract us from two losing wars? How will we pay off the $8 trillion national debt he ran up? America needs a strong president yesterday.
Bush could save himself and the nation three years of marking time by resigning. Or Congress could do the right thing and impeach him for his countless crimes.
Maybe Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will get indicted for their roles in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. But our constitutional system only allows for impeaching individuals, not whole administrations. If Cheney is indicted and forced to quit, Bush will appoint a replacement — Washington scuttlebutt points to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If Bush falls, Rice ascends. If something happens to Rice, the person she chose as vice president succeeds her. All the political hacks who lied and schemed and whose incompetence led to the current crisis of leadership — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, adviser Karl Rove, et al. — stay in place. The hydra lives. More young men and women die in Iraq.
One solution is to establish a California-style recall system on the national level. If a significant percentage of Americans loses confidence in the president and his administration to the extent that they’re willing to sign a recall petition, a special election should be held within three months. The number of required signatures should be high enough — California’s system calls for 12 percent of the number of people who cast votes in the preceding election — to ensure that recalls are only held as the result of widespread disgust among the citizenry.
To avoid disruption, the constitutional amendment creating the recall provision could prevent such elections from being held more often than, say, annually. And a recall wouldn’t automatically result in a new party taking over the White House — just a new administration. But it would replace our current system of political stagnation with a more dynamic democracy.
The threat of recall would make sitting leaders responsive to the people more often than the current four-year election cycle, and would allow disastrous and unpopular leaders like Bush to be replaced posthaste.
Of course, national recall elections wouldn’t guarantee that the people would always be happy with their leaders. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man who replaced Gray Davis after the recall, currently “ranks among the most unpopular governors in modern California history,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. But Californians don’t have to wait until the next election to get rid of him.