Since the beginning of 2007, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings in U.S. polls have yet to break 40%, and lately, they’ve been hovering around 33%. Apparently, two out of three Americans disapprove of his war, environmental policies, politics, or economics. Last fall, voters sent a clear message by electing Democratic majorities in the House and Congress.
Things don’t get much lamer than that for a Republican President.
Meanwhile in Great Britain, Tony Blair—faced with similar differences of opinion with his constituents—gracefully and graciously stepped aside as Prime Minister. Gordon Brown will replace him on June 27, and that will be that. Blair can go on to do good works as a private citizen and be gratefully remembered for his less controversial accomplishments in office.
So here’s my question: Why are we stuck with George W., and he with us, for the next 18 months? Why can’t we have a system that allows a lame duck president to make a dignified exit and let the rest of us get on with things?
When the Constitution was drafted, it could take weeks after an election just to figure out who the winners were. Messages traveled as fast as horses could trot. Things took time. But today, should it still take months or years to get the barge of state turned around?
In the U.S., it’s unthinkable for a President to quit—as Richard Nixon, uniquely, was forced to do—regardless of whether or not he (or she) can reasonably be expected to do a decent job in office. During the months when Bill Clinton was being harried and harassed about his sex life (and so many Americans were patiently trying to explain the headlines to their elderly grandparents), what if stepping aside gracefully had been an option? (I’m not saying he would have or should have stepped down. I’m just asking “what if?”)
Would we lose a lot by doing away with primaries and shortening the election season? Would candidates use more of their time for debating real issues and less for mud-slinging? Would people who really have a mandate from the people be able to get something accomplished, without the Executive and the Legislative branches canceling each other out (as happened today, when Bush vetoed a bill allowing funding of embryonic stem cell research)?
It’s been well over 200 years, and the first Continental Congress didn’t do a bad job, all things considered. But one or two things have changed since then. Maybe it’s time we started looking around at what works well in other countries and asking whether our practices are best practices.
Bush is outnumbered in both houses of Congress and under constant attack by members of his own party. This duck isn’t lame. He’s on his belly without a leg to stand on. Why should he and all of us Americans have to keep on pretending that he speaks for the nation?