Notice the change in George W. Bush's image lately? The White House is pitching him a bit less as the tough commander in chief and a lot more as Mr. Sensitive, the everyday guy who's doing his best to connect with the problems of the middle class.
It's all part of an effort to lift his job-approval ratings by moving beyond his policy prescriptions, which remain unpopular, and emphasizing the personal qualities that Americans like, such as his affability and lack of pretension.
For example, last Sunday Bush delivered a commencement address and pep talk at Greensburg High School in a small Kansas town that was devastated by a tornado last year. It was designed to show his empathy for those struggling against adversity.
More generally, he takes every opportunity to say help is on the way to distressed taxpayers in the form of rebate checks being sent out this month under a $168 billion stimulus package he worked out with Congress. Bush is talking frequently about how concerned he is about rising gasoline prices, telling ABC's Good Morning America on Monday, "It troubles me a lot. As I told people, rising gasoline prices is like a tax on the working people."
This weekend, he and his wife Laura will welcome 200 guests to their Texas ranch and preside over their daughter Jenna's wedding—an event that will command lots of positive media coverage and depict the Bushes as proud family folk.
And of course Bush is about to embark on a trip to the Middle East next week to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel. A big objective will be to promote the peace process and demonstrate his commitment to personal diplomacy.
Also on the international front, Bush's aides are emphasizing his eagerness to send U.S. aid to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar as soon as possible.
Of course, Bush is still taking a hard line with Congress on many issues, such as the Iraq war and the need for budget restraint. But at the same time, his strategists are trying to remind Americans of why they liked him in the first place as a "compassionate conservative" and in the process perhaps help fellow Republicans in the general election by making Bush a less polarizing figure.
—Kenneth T. Walsh