White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg made Thursday's front page with her White House Memo, "In Economic Drama, Bush Is Largely Offstage," painting a liberalreader-friendly picture of a "detached" president tuned out by a contemptuous citizenry.
The first hint that President Bush might be detached from the nation's economic woes was in February, when he conceded that he had not heard about predictions of $4-a-gallon gasoline.
Then Mr. Bush went to Wall Street to warn against "massive government intervention in the housing markets," two days before his administration helped broker the takeover of the investment bank Bear Stearns.
For the record, as Stolberg admits later in the story, gasoline never got close to $4 a gallon, which means she is criticizing him for ignoring a prediction that never came about. (The current national average is $3.29.)
After years of Times criticism of Bush for going it alone in Iraq, he's now being sniped at for going overseas. andworking withNATO allies.Also notice how the Times unusually brought up Bush's advanced degree (he has an MBA from Harvard) only to use it to disparage him.
Now Mr. Bush is in Eastern Europe, one of eight foreign trips he is taking this year. As he delivered his farewell address to NATO on Wednesday, Senate Democrats and Republicans were holed up in the Capitol, scrambling to produce a bill to help struggling homeowners, the kind of government intervention Mr. Bush had cautioned against.
For a man who came into office as the nation's first M.B.A. president, Mr. Bush has sometimes seemed invisible during the housing and credit crunch. As the economy eclipses Iraq as the top issue on voters' minds, even some Republican allies of the president say Mr. Bush is being eclipsed and is in danger of looking out of touch.
"He's over there arguing about who should get into NATO, and the American people are focused on what's in their pocketbooks," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan in his second term. "He has talked about the economy, but it is not viewed as being a satisfactory response. Unfortunately, the lasting image is of not knowing of $4-a-gallon gas."
Still, because the public has little faith in Mr. Bush, it may be tough for him to be the point man on the economy, even with a Harvard business degree. Just 25 percent of the public approves of the way Mr. Bush is handling the economy, a figure even lower than his overall job approval rating, a CBS News Poll in mid-March found.
White House officials fiercely reject the contention that Mr. Bush is not showing leadership, or is out of touch. They say he has been unfairly treated for his $4-a-gallon gasoline comment. The average price was nowhere near $4 when Mr. Bush was asked the question, though the predictions were all over the news. (The national average is $3.29, the Energy Department says.)
Even when Bush talks, no one's listening. And still more from consistent Bush critic Duberstein:
While Mr. Bush may be talking, Americans do not seem to be listening. When the president visited a debt counseling center on Friday in Freehold, N.J., it did not generate major headlines. But the papers were awash with the news that Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania had endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president.
Some Republicans say that will not change, no matter what Mr. Bush says or does; the public's views are so entrenched, they argue, that Mr. Bush would be faulted even if he took a more aggressive stance. Mr. Duberstein, the former Reagan chief of staff, says Mr. Bush must try.
"He has to get back in the public conversation again," Mr. Duberstein said. "All the conversation going on now is Obama, Clinton and McCain, and people are not talking about: 'What's George Bush thinking? What's George Bush going to do?'"