Of all the half-truths and distortions coming from the White House, President Bush's tendency to cite public support
for his Iraq policy is among the most pernicious. And the Associated Press calls him on it in a lengthy piece
this morning. For example:
[In a press conference last week], Bush said: "I recognize there are a handful there, or some, who just say, `Get out, you know, it's just not worth it. Let's just leave.' I strongly disagree with that attitude. Most Americans do as well."
In fact, polls show Americans do not disagree, and that leaving â not winning â is their main goal.
There are numerable other examples, such as
Bush's line during the standoff with Congress over the Iraq funding bill that the Democrats' "failure to fund our troops... is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people." Polls, of course, showed popular support for the Democrats' plan. (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has sounded a similar line
But there's an explanation, the AP reports, for this clash between Bush's assertions and polling results:
Bush aides say poll questions are asked so many ways, and often so imprecisely, that it is impossible to conclude that most Americans really want to get out. Failure, Bush says, is not what the public wants â they just don't fully understand that that is just what they will get if troops are pulled out before the Iraqi government is capable of keeping the country stable on its own.
To which a polling expert replies:
Independent pollster Andrew Kohut said of the White House view: "I don't see what they're talking about."
"They want to know when American troops are going to leave," Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, said of the public. "They certainly want to win. But their hopes have been dashed."
Kohut has found it notable that there's such a consensus in poll findings.
"When the public hasn't made up its mind or hasn't thought about things, there's a lot of variation in the polls," he said. "But there's a fair amount of agreement now."
But there are times when even the administration admits that the public support is not there -- for instance, the president's consistently and irrefutably abysmal approval rating. And at such times, Bush and others have backpedaled to a stance of aloofness, the president posing as a rock of judgment that won't be swayed by public whim: "If you make decisions based upon the latest opinion poll, you won't be thinking long-term strategy on behalf of the American people."
Or, as White House spokesman Tony Fratto put it
in the case of Alberto Gonzales:
"It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner. And that's going to ebb and flow, but it will not ebb and flow with this President and this Attorney General."
So, in conclusion, the White House's attitude toward public opinion: claim public support for policies that do not have it; when challenged, explain that the public isn't really
saying what it's saying; and when confronted with inarguable evidence of public disapproval, claim indifference. It's quite a dance.