Yet Bush's political troubles seem to go beyond particular policies. Many presidents over the past 70 years have faced greater or more immediate crises without falling as far in the public mind -- Vietnam claimed far more American lives than Iraq, the Iranian hostage crisis made the United States look impotent, race riots and desegregation tore the country apart, the oil embargo forced drivers to wait for hours to fill up, the Soviets seemed to threaten the nation's survival.
"It's astonishing," said Pat Caddell, who was President Jimmy Carter's pollster. "It's hard to look at the situation today and say the country is absolutely 15 miles down in the hole. The economy's not that bad -- for some people it is, but not overall. Iraq is terribly handled, but it's not Vietnam; we're not losing 250 people a week. . . . We don't have that immediate crisis, yet the anxiety about the future is palpable. And the feeling about him is he's irrelevant to that. I think they've basically given up on him."
That may stem in part from the changing nature of society. When Caddell's boss was president, there were three major broadcast networks. Today cable news, talk radio and the Internet have made information far more available, while providing easy outlets for rage and polarization. Public disapproval of Bush is not only broad but deep; 52 percent of Americans "strongly" disapprove of his performance and 28 percent describe themselves as "angry."Jonathan Chait
"A lot of the commentary that comes out of the Internet world is very harsh," said Frank J. Donatelli, White House political director for Ronald Reagan. "That has a tendency to reinforce people's opinions and harden people's opinions."