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12 July 2007


Second best, oh second best. I can learn to live with this. Plus I really need the rest. After all, what's wrong with second best? What's wrong with second best? -- Pedro the Lion

Never let it be said that President Bush isn't good at something. This week President Bush did something many would have thought unthinkable: he tied Richard Nixon's disapproval rating, the second worst ever for a US President. I'm not sure why the liberal media isn't reporting it. They must be busy melting glaciers in the arctic or something, so it appears that global warming is real.

If the President can apply himself just a bit, he'll take home the gold. We know he's an underachiever and all, but surely he can make us proud. Just two more measly disapproval points and he'll be the least popular ever. That's our President, we'll say with a look of triumph. We knew he could do it.

Salon has more:

Amid our nostalgia for the day in 1974 when (Hank) Aaron hit number 715 to pass Babe Ruth, it's easy to forget another race for the record books that went on that same season. While Aaron was hitting for the fences, Richard Nixon was trying to hit bottom – chasing Harry Truman's single-season record as the most unpopular president in the history of presidential polling.

At the time, Truman's record of 67% disapproval – set when Americans were weary of the Korean War and angry over the firing of Douglas MacArthur – had stood untouched for 22 years. Most pollsters assumed that Truman's mark, like Ruth's, could never be broken. Just as the physical wear-and-tear of baseball made 714 homers look insurmountable, the physics of politics seemed to put 67% disapproval out of reach. You could look it up in the Founders' rule book: a two-thirds majority is the threshold for impeachment by the Senate.

But Richard Nixon had spent his entire career being underestimated. By Opening Day of the 1974 season – less than two years after one of the greatest electoral landslides in history – Nixon stunned the political world by reaching 65% disapproval. Like Aaron, then at 713, Nixon began the 1974 season just two away from claiming the mark for all time.

Aaron's persistence paid off with a swing off Al Downing that launched him past Ruth on April 8, 1974. The same day, White House aides told the New York Times correspondent that far from stepping down, Nixon was abandoning his eighth counterattack (dubbed "Operation Candor") and launching his ninth. With such determination, he must have felt certain the record was within his grasp.

Yet when the last Gallup Poll of his presidency came out in August 1974, Nixon would taste the bitterness of defeat once again. His final disapproval rating was 66% -- one shy of Truman's record. By any other standard, Nixon left office the most hated president in American history. But in the record book, he had not even an asterisk to show for it.

In a remarkable historical coincidence, those same two records that were under assault in 1974 are on the ropes again in 2007. The sports world is already dreading the day Barry Bonds will pass Aaron. But the political world has scarcely noticed another milestone in the making: With 66% disapproval in this week's Gallup Poll, George W. Bush just tied Richard Nixon as the second-most unpopular president ever.

Bush has flirted with immortality before. In May 2006 and again in February 2007, he secured third place with personal bests of 65% disapproval. But each time, some random piece of less horrible news and the statistical vagaries of polling intervened to interrupt Bush's quest for the record.

For most of this year, Bush has been mired in the low 60s, unable to sustain any negative momentum. His team tried everything – mounting a hopeless surge in Iraq, botching the immigration bill, standing behind an Attorney General any other administration would have left for dead. But each week, the American people kept handing him the same verdict they gave Richard Nixon – in the words of King Lear, "The worst is not, so long as we can say, 'This is the worst.'"

Can Bush reach the goal that eluded Nixon? Or is Truman's record enduring proof that Dick Cheney is wrong: You can offend some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't offend all of the people all of the time.
(h/t: Streak)

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