Inauguration Day brings a big poll story from the usual reporting team of Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, "Public Voicing Doubts on Iraq And the Economy, Poll Finds - Worries Mix With Optimism on Eve of 2nd Term." Reading the Times' take on the poll, it's a wonder Bush got to his second Inauguration Day at all.
Nagourney and Toner begin their gloomy assessment: "On the eve of President Bush's second inauguration, most Americans say they do not expect the economy to improve or American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House, and many have reservations about his signature plan to overhaul Social Security, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll. Seventy percent, however, said they thought Mr. Bush would succeed in changing the Social Security system. The poll found that 43 percent of respondents expect most forms of abortion to be illegal by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House, given Mr. Bush's expected appointments to the Supreme Court. The Times/CBS News Poll offered the kind of conflicting portrait of the nation's view of Mr. Bush that was evident throughout last year's presidential campaign. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were generally optimistic on the eve of Mr. Bush's swearing-in about the next four years, but clear majorities disapproved of Mr. Bush's management of the economy and the war in Iraq."
After delivering more findings from the poll suggesting Americans think Bush will increase the deficit and that his second term "would divide Americans," the Times speculates: "The findings, coming after a tensely competitive election, suggest that Mr. Bush does not have broad popular support as he embarks on what the White House has signaled would be an extraordinarily ambitious second term, which in many ways will commence with Mr. Bush's swearing-in and speech on Thursday. That could undermine his leverage in Congress, where even some Republicans have expressed concern about major aspects of Mr. Bush's Social Security plans."
They also hit at Bush's relatively low job approval: "Mr. Bush's job approval rating is at 49 percent as he heads into his second term - significantly lower than the ratings at the start of the second terms of the last two presidents who served eight years, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. And 56 percent said the country has gone off on the wrong track, about as bad a rating Mr. Bush has received on this measure since entering the White House."
By this time people may wonder how Bush won.
In the eight paragraph, the Times notes a positive for Bush, though even that comes with a favored Times' caveat: "Still, as Mr. Bush enters what the White House views as a critical two-year window before his power begins to wane, the poll suggests that Mr. Bush's effort to lay the groundwork to reshape the Social Security system has had some success. Fifty percent said Social Security is in crisis, echoing an assertion that Mr. Bush has made and that has been disputed by Democrats and independent analysts."
The phrase "Democrats and independent analysts" should be familiar to Times readers; White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller  has twice used a similar formulation ("Many Democrats and economists say that Mr. Bush is exaggerating the problem" and "Many Democrats and economists say that the administration is fear mongering"). Are there really no economists or analysts that think Social Security needs major reform?
The Times even find two Republicans against reform: "'I think it's a bad idea,' said Tina DeSantis, 46, of Pennsylvania, who identified herself as a Republican. 'People that I've encountered don't necessarily have the tools necessary to make proper decisions with them and end up losing money.' And Ilene Bernards, 46, a Republican from Clinton, Utah, said she feared that permitting people to invest in private accounts would end up destabilizing the system."
They follow up: "Respondents do not appear to share Mr. Bush's concern about the urgency of the Social Security problem, in the context of other problems facing the nation."
For the rest of Nagourney and Toner's poll story, click here :
Giving Rice's Critics An Open Field
Steven Weisman's filing from Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings to become secretary of state is loaded with Rice critics. Yet even though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved her nomination by a vote of 16-2, Weisman's story has no quotes from her supporters.
Weisman says almost nothing about her supporters: "Though some Republicans defended Ms. Rice from Democratic attacks, others, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, chimed in that the administration needed to present a clear plan for achieving its goals in Iraq and making a withdrawal possible."
By contrast Weisman quotes directly Rice critics Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Barack Obama and a spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd, also summarizing that Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer "cited her refusal to acknowledge past mistakes" to explain their "No" votes.
There's also this characterization of Rice's testimony: "Whatever frustration there was in the administration over this last-minute snag was balanced in part by frustration among some of the senators over Ms. Rice's testimony, in which she refused to second-guess past decisions on Iraq and also refused to be very specific in outlining the future."
For the rest of Weisman on Rice, click here :
Lauding Liberal Hero Barbara Boxer for Frying Rice
Congressional reporter Carl Hulse files a separate story from the Rice hearings, focusing on liberal heroine Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rice's most vocal challenger at the hearing. In "Boxer Is Loudest Voice of Opposition to Rice Nomination," Hulse at least labels Boxer liberal, but in an almost admiring way, opening his story: "While some Democrats are still struggling to find their voices after November's election losses, Senator Barbara Boxer of California is not among them. Her full-throated and combative questioning of Condoleezza Rice during two days of hearings on her nomination to be secretary of state was a vivid illustration of the aggressive posture that Ms. Boxer, a 64-year-old liberal from Marin County, near San Francisco, brought back to Washington after rolling up a big margin of victory in her re-election to a third term."
Hulse characterizes her jousting: "It is clear that she is interpreting her easy win in November, when she accumulated the third-largest number of votes in the nation, behind only the presidential contenders, as a mandate of her own."
Later Hulse writes: "Ms. Boxer has been source of political frustration for California Republicans, who have been unable to defeat her despite her liberal voting record and her prominent role as a legislative leader on protecting abortion rights. She rolled up a 20 percentage point win in November over the Republican challenger, Bill Jones, and accumulated just under seven million votes, the highest total ever for a senator."
A Times editor liked one of Boxer's lines so much it became the story's cut-out line: "In the Iraq war, '25 percent of the dead are from California,' its junior senator says."
But asJames Taranto  at Opinion Journal.com notes: "According to Casualties.org, the number of California servicemen who've died is 157, which is about 11.5% of the total, less than half the proportion Boxer claimed."
For the rest of Hulse's profile of Boxer, click here :
Christian Conservatives at the Inauguration
David Kirkpatrick, the Times' beat reporter for the conservative movement, discovers "Christian Conservatives Embrace Inauguration" Thursday, an article featuring yet another cameo by Barry Lynn criticizing Bush's inauguration.
Kirkpatrick begins: "President Bush, who starts each day with prayer and Bible reading, will invoke divine blessings on the nation in his second inaugural address like every president before him. What makes his swearing-in different, however, is the enthusiasm of his Christian conservative supporters for his inaugural expressions of faith."
Halfway through, Kirkpatrick  againquotes anti-Bush Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "'At a time when the president should be acutely aware of the religious differences with the country and the world, he is choosing to turn it into a distinctly Christian event,' he said, arguing that controversy over the role of religious rhetoric in the election and in the war in Iraq makes this an especially sensitive moment."
Kirkpatrick also files another story for Thursday's edition, sporting the mocking (online only) headline, "Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A CartoonSponge ." It's about Focus on the Family founder James Dobson's criticism of what Dobson calls a "pro-homosexual video" starring the famous cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.
For the full Kirkpatrick on the inauguration, click here :