Help me out, will you? I keep reading that George W. Bush is an enormously popular president and a virtual shoo-in for re-election.
The thing is that I never actually hear anyone say he thinks Bush is doing a great job.
We know that Bush wants to wage war against Iraq. But what else can you tell me about his presidency?
Since Bush's popularity depends on his effectiveness in the fight against terrorism, he gets only so-so grades on that. How generous can you be when Osama bin Laden remains on the loose and active with terrorist acts in Bali and Kenya.
The Bush presidency shows signs of chaos and 2004 is up for grabs assuming - and it is a huge assumption - the Democrats can get their own act together.
Here are a few assorted slaps in your face from Bush's first two years that you may have missed during the barrage of Iraq publicity.
- On Nov. 5, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Harvey Pitt, the best friend the accounting industry ever had, resigned in disgrace. The Bush administration, to minimize the controversy about their handpicked choice, orchestrated Pitt's resignation for Election Eve when the public would be distracted. Six weeks of skepticism and fiscal uncertainty passed before Bush named former investment banker William H. Donaldson to replace Pitt. Donaldson is a long time friend of the Bush family.
- When the Bush administration refused to relinquish documents naming the participants in secret meetings held by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, General Accounting Office Comptroller General David Walker sued. But this week federal district court Judge John D. Bates, a Bush appointee, threw the suit out. The matter will proceed to an appellate court where Rep. Henry Waxman, of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, expects it to be overturned. Judge Walker's decision comes too late to entirely save Cheney and his cronies from embarrassment. Over the months since the suit was filed, word has leaked out that Enron, a corporation that gave generously to all of Bush's campaigns, was well represented at the meetings.
- White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. authorized cash bonuses in amounts up to $25,000 for certain political appointees. The cash payouts will go to employees who typically earn between $125,000 to $140,000 annually. In 1994, the practice of distributing bonuses was ended after negative publicity surrounding payouts during the waning days of the George H. Bush administration.
- After waiting 14 months to order a "comprehensive" study into the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks, President Bush appointed 79-year-old former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to lead the investigation. The Kissinger appointment is curious. Once Richard Nixon's right hand man, Kissinger approved the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and supported the overthrow in 1973 of Chile's democratically elected Salvador Allende by the murderous Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Immediately after his appointment, Kissinger alienated friends and foes alike by taking a page from the Dick Cheney handbook of evasion management. He steadfastly refused to severe any ties with Kissinger Associates. Kissinger called possibility of conflict of interest "outrageous." Although Kissinger Associates doesn't reveal its client list, it includes Arco and Exxon Mobil.
- Since Bush took office, 2 million people have lost their jobs, trillions of dollars have been lost in the investment markets and the unemployment rate hit an eight-year high of 6 percent. The working class is reeling from soaring energy bills and skyrocketing medical insurance premiums. Stonewalling reasonable requests for public records and quietly reinstating cash bonuses to government officials who earn six-figure salaries is questionable public relations.
A controversial figure like Kissinger is best left out of the limelight. Dusting him off for a face-saving mission shows poor judgment.
The Democrats have fodder. The problem is whether the party can find someone palatable enough to oppose Bush.
Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.