I seldom write posts

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I seldom write posts that don’t make their way, in <$Ad$>one form or another, onto the site. But occasionally I’ll write a lengthy one, edit it, wrestle with it, then decide that something about it just doesn’t work and discard it entirely. That happened last night in a long post I wrote trying to make sense of just why the President Bush’s approval numbers dipped so suddenly with no clear trigger.

Part of the reason I ended up not liking the post was that in the course of writing a post describing how there was no clear single explanation I happened upon something that seemed like a clear and at least relatively simple explanation.

This AP article notes that President Bush’s fall in the polls coincides very closely with David Kay’s initial comments stating that there almost certainly were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Here are the key grafs …

Bush’s job approval rating dropped 10 points from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey. The tracking poll takes a nightly sample and rolls together two or three nights’ findings at a time to produce periodic reports.

Support for the war in Iraq also dipped in that period, from a majority saying the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, 53 percent, to 46 percent during the last few days of January saying it was worth going to war and 49 percent saying it was not.

The Annenberg study found Bush’s approval dipped from 64 percent right after Bush’s Jan. 20 State of the Union address to 54 percent in the late-January period. An AP-Ipsos poll found Bush’s approval dipped 9 points during January to the high 40s, the same finding as several other polls released at about that time.

Falling ten points in a week is a precipitous drop — and it seems to have been picked up in a number of polls, even if the rest of the surveys weren’t able to pinpoint when it started quite as precisely as Annenberg.

To those who’ve been closely following the on-going weapons search and what’s been happening on the ground in Iraq, Kay’s announcement was only news at the level of theatrics — the historical value of the official statement of what’s been obvious for many months.

I don’t think most people following this story figured it would have nearly so dramatic an effect as the Annenberg study indicates. I certainly didn’t. Indeed, I focused on the parts of Kay’s comments and testimony which struck me as attempting to exonerate the administration.

But this may be a case in which close attention to the news helped create a real blind spot. As we’ve noted here many times the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid publicly acknowledging the reality that we were totally wrong about the weapons.

The plan was always to say that the search continued and to dangle hints that anyone who doubted that Saddam had weapons might end up looking very foolish indeed when the weapons turned up. Even now high White House officials tell reporters off the record that they will continue to say that the search is still on-going so as to avoid putting these uncomfortable words in the president’s mouth.

This is not only amazingly cynical (a free willingness to continue deceiving the public just as they did during the run-up to the war). It is, or was, it seems extremely effective.

By not coming clean and resting on the public’s desire to trust the president, the White House was able to stave off the political impact of the collapse of the central argument for going to war. In that context, Kay’s statements were a very big deal indeed, and the public reaction makes all the sense in the world.

For some time now, it’s been conventional wisdom that most voters weren’t overly troubled by the failure to find any weapons in the country, especially so long as other aspects of the war were going at least tolerably well. That assumption may have been very wrong.

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