Approval percentages do little to influence historical perception
Despite Bush's ratings, it is impossible to say how he will be seen in a century.
WASHINGTON -- As his approval numbers sink during these dog days of August, President Bush might take solace by reflecting on the roller-coaster ride through history taken by one of his predecessors.
In April 1951, shortly after he removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur from command of U.S. troops in Korea, Harry Truman hit an all-time low in presidential popularity: Only 23 percent of his countrymen approved of the Missourian's job performance, the lowest such rating before or since.
Yet today, Truman regularly shows up as a Top 10 president in scholarly polls of historians and broad surveys of Americans alike, who recognize that the Marshall Plan and NATO, key marks of his administration, helped rebuild Europe and contributed to the Western allies' victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
"History not yet written will determine how Bush will be viewed a half-century from now," said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.
"But in the short run of politics that matters day to day, Iraq is clearly a big negative weight dragging him down and potentially threatening to drag down the Republican Party in midterm elections next year."
August is normally a slow, sultry month when political news grinds to a halt, and U.S. presidents join other Americans in enjoying hard-earned vacations.
But this August has broken the mold, as Cindy Sheehan and like-minded anti-war protesters dominate the media spotlight amid continuing violence and political upheaval in Iraq.
In two opinion surveys last week, Bush's approval reached the nadir of his 67 months in office -- 40 percent in the Harris Poll, 36 percent according to the American Research Group. The same polls show that clear majorities of Americans now consider Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 to have been a mistake.