Sagging Male Support

Is President Bush becoming his father? This president's job ratings are now sinking below 50 percent, the danger point for any president seeking re-election. At this point in 1991, his father's job rating was 66 percent. The elder President Bush didn't see his ratings drop to 50 until December 1991.

George W. Bush has lost the most support among men, plunging 17 points since August in the Gallup Poll. The gender gap has disappeared. Men are no longer more favorable to Bush than women are. Why the sharp losses among men? One word: jobs. While women rate jobs and terrorism as equal in importance, men are more concerned about jobs. More than 3 million jobs have been lost since 2000. So far, Bush's tax cuts do not seem to be bringing them back. And Bush is paying a price for that—among men.

Iraq is now part of Bush's economic problem. Bush linked Iraq to the U.S. economy when he addressed the nation on September 7. The big shock was the $87 billion he proposed spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Voters are asking, how can the president spend $87 billion over there when the U.S. economy remains in trouble? Americans are now split down the middle over whether the war in Iraq was worth fighting.

Bush missed another opportunity when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly last week. His message did very little to persuade other countries to share the burden of reconstructing Iraq. Why should they? He pursued a unilateralist policy in Iraq. Defending unilateralism at the United Nations is like defending abortion rights before the College of Cardinals. It is bound to get a cool reception.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan took issue with Bush's policy even before the president spoke. "The right to act unilaterally or in ad hoc coalitions ... represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years," Annan said. The secretary-general warned, "It could set precedents that result in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification."

The U.N. delegates wanted Bush to say that the United States made a mistake going into Iraq without explicit authorization from the Security Council. But if Bush had done that, he would have enraged his conservative base and endangered the one political advantage he holds over his father. This President Bush has the deep loyalty of conservatives—something his father did not have after he abandoned his "no-new-taxes" pledge.

Will George W. Bush pay a political price at home for his failure at the United Nations? Actually, the evidence points to the American public's increasing exasperation with the United Nations. Fifty years ago, Americans had a lot of confidence in the new institution. In 1953, only 30 percent thought it was doing a poor job. That number grew to 44 percent by 1993, two years after the Persian Gulf War.

A year ago, when President Bush appealed to the United Nations to stand firm against Saddam Hussein a second time, a majority of Americans felt the United Nations was doing a poor job. Now the figure is up to 60 percent. Americans seem to be saying, "If the United Nations refuses to support the United States in Iraq, to hell with it."

Or maybe not. Now that the United States is in trouble in Iraq, Americans, including Bush, are ready to rethink this U.N. deal. "I recognize that some of the sovereign nations of this assembly disagreed with our actions," Bush told the world body last month. "Yet there was and there remains unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations."

The American people are willing to set aside their problems with the United Nations. Should foreign companies be allowed to have contracts in Iraq? No problem, say 78 percent, according to a Time/CNN poll. Should the United States allow the United Nations to make policy decisions in Iraq? Fine, say 59 percent, as long as other countries share the military burden.

How can Bush persuade them to do that? He gave it his best shot on September 23 by arguing that we're all on the same side in the war on terrorism. Bush told the delegates, "Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides, between those who seek order and those who spread chaos." U.N. delegates may abhor unilateralism, but they are devoted to the cause of world order.

Bush is trying to restore the consensus that prevailed in the world after 9/11. The Iraq war fractured that consensus. Bush is willing to let bygones be bygones. The American people are, too. All Americans have an interest in turning Iraq into an international problem. But the rest of the world sees it as an American problem.

According to The New York Times, "In the [U.N.] corridors all day [after Bush spoke], diplomats were intensely discussing the recent decline in Mr. Bush's popularity at home and wondering if his troubles would make it easier for countries around the world to oppose the United States on Iraq." It's not hard to find the answer. All they have to do is listen to what leading Democrats have been saying.