The Presidency

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PHOTO OP: 9:02 a.m., November 2, the White House

By SHARE

Business as Usual in Washington
Members of the Washington establishment—including President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties—seem to be doing their best to test America's patience with politics as usual. The capital is again swamped by stalemate and partisanship, and it's no wonder that the public is getting increasingly upset with the status quo.

Bush and the Democrats are squabbling about nearly everything. The president regularly pounds congressional leaders as "tax and spend" liberals. Last week, he argued that the Demo-crats have trouble passing any legislation "without shoving a tax hike into it," adding that "proposed spending is skyrocketing under their leadership." He threatened a rash of vetoes and on Friday rejected a $23 billion water projects bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "The biggest-spending president in 40 years wants to spend $2.4 trillion on a failed war strategy overseas, but he says no to healthcare for our children, no to caring for our veterans, no to putting more police on the streets." It sounds to many voters like partisanship without end.

Bush readies government by executive order
Faced with potential gridlock almost across the board, Bush has ordered his staff to prepare a variety of executive orders and administrative actions that will let him end-run Congress for the remainder of his term. This has been done by presidents before, but Bush's plans seem more extensive. White House officials say that Bush is considering a lengthy series of unilateral actions on hot-button topics such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels by encouraging alternative energy sources, limiting the importation of dangerous toys from China, restricting illegal immigration but still allowing needed agricultural workers to enter the country, improving veterans' healthcare, and alleviating air-traffic congestion.

"He wants to be thoughtful about this," says a senior White House official. "In almost every case, we would like to see legislation." But if Congress can't or won't act, Bush tells aides, he will move ahead on his own. Of course, this will further inflame the Democrats and make cooperation on Capitol Hill even less likely.

The Democrats may even blow this great opportunity
All the feuding and posturing may motivate the zealots, but it intensifies everyday voters' sour mood, and a new survey by Democracy Corps should set off alarms for the establishment. The public "is angrier with the state of the country than we have ever witnessed," according to Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Al Quinlan. They point out that 7 out of 10 Americans think the country is on the wrong track, most Americans disapprove of President Bush's job performance, even more are unhappy with Congress, and most don't think the government is addressing their concerns. But "Democrats have not yet found their voice as agents of change, except perhaps on Iraq," they say, noting: "It is not enough to be anti-Iraq and anti-Bush." Voters could be pushed "to third parties and some even back to the Republicans, particularly if progressives fail to tackle key grievances," such as illegal immigration, the Iraq war, and wage stagnation. Additional evidence of voter angst came in a focus group conducted last week by pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center. None of the dozen participants—all relatively affluent Republicans from southern Virginia—felt that the next generation would be better off than theirs—a dreary outlook in a nation known for its optimism. These are more signs that the 2008 election is really up for grabs.

PHOTO OP: 9:02 a.m., November 2, the White House
Not your ordinary commuter, President Bush has a rare moment to himself as he leaves the Oval Office and heads for his helicopter on the way to a day trip to South Carolina. He headlined a fundraiser for Sen. Lindsey Graham and attended a basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson.