The speech didn't work. That is the unambiguous finding of a Gallup Poll taken in the days after President Bush's September 7 address to the nation about Iraq.

Before the speech, Bush's job-approval rating was 59 percent. That number had been hovering around 60 percent all summer. After the speech, his approval rating dropped to 52 percent, the lowest rating the American people have given Bush since September 10, 2001, just before the terrorist attacks.

Why the drop? One word: Iraq. "We knew that it was going to be a lot of money and that it was going to take a lot of time," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the day after Bush's speech. "But this was the first strong message the president put out like that." Bush's speech was clearly sobering: Approval of his handling of Iraq dropped from 57 percent to 51 percent.

In the speech, Bush once again connected the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism. "Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war fought on many fronts and in many places," Bush told the nation. "Iraq is now the central front."

That connection is not so clear to the public. Approval of the president's handling of "terrorism" remains high: 64 percent, nearly unchanged by the speech, and 13 points higher than his rating on Iraq. Americans see the war on terrorism as one policy, Iraq as another—and perhaps even as a distraction from the war on terrorism.

In early May, right after the president declared, "Mission accomplished" on the deck of an aircraft carrier, Americans overwhelmingly thought the situation in Iraq was going well. Just 13 percent thought it was not. That percentage has quadrupled. Now a majority of Americans (52 percent) say things are not going well in Iraq.

In the Democratic presidential debate two days after Bush's speech, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut charged, "What President Bush gave the American people on Sunday night was a price tag, not a plan. We in Congress must demand a plan."

The public agrees. Strikingly, after Bush laid out his policy to the American people, the number of Americans who said the Bush administration does not have a clear plan in Iraq went up, from 54 percent to 59 percent.

And what about the price tag? "I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion," Bush announced. Yikes, said the Democrats. "The only thing certain in President Bush's speech was the initial price tag of $87 billion," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. "There was no other certainty in terms of the duration of our presence there or even our approach to solving these difficult issues."

Bush is asking the American people to pick up the tab. And leading Democrats object. "He needs to get help from the international coalition that he should have gotten months ago," said Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued, "We have to de-Americanize this war."

Yikes, said the voters, balking at the prospect of spending $87 billion in Iraq when the U.S. economy is shaky. By 51 percent to 46 percent, the public narrowly disapproves of Congress's authorizing that amount for Iraq. Expect a fierce, partisan battle. More than 70 percent of Democrats oppose spending $87 billion on Iraq. More than 70 percent of Republicans support it.

But the economy remains the president's core political problem. He gets his lowest approval ratings on handling the economy (45 percent). And, ominously, the Gallup Poll shows declining satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States: 60 percent of respondents were satisfied in late March, during the war; only 40 percent are now. Iraq no longer compensates for Bush's domestic weaknesses. It reinforces them.

Congress, which is exquisitely attuned to the costs of supporting an unpopular president, seems to be adjusting to Bush's diminished stature. Senate Democrats have defeated the Bush administration on series of issues this month, including overtime pay for white-collar workers, funding for special education, and student aid. Democrats also forced the withdrawal of a White House appeals court nominee, Miguel Estrada. "It feels like the wheels are starting to fall off a little," a GOP strategist told The New York Times.

Bush is in political trouble—just as he was on September 10, 2001. Before his television speech this month, Bush had a 12-point edge over an unnamed Democratic challenger (51 percent to 39 percent). After the speech, his lead shrank to 4 points (47 percent 43 percent). That's too close to call.

There is some good news for Bush. Nearly 60 percent of respondents still say going to war in Iraq was worthwhile. That percentage has changed very little since the war ended—a fact that suggests it would still be risky for Democrats to run on a platform that the United States was wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Compare the current political climate to 1972, when a solid majority of Americans had turned against the war in Vietnam but still refused to vote for Democrat George McGovern, who seemed to say that the United States was wrong to have gone to war in the first place.

The public hasn't turned against Bush's Iraq policy. They've turned against the game plan in Iraq and against the price tag