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Bush set for second inaugural celebration

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, January 20, 2005

As President Bush begins his second term in office today, national polls as well as Notre Dame professors and students find the nation just as politically divided as it was during November’s contentious election.A Pew Research Center poll for Jan. 5-9 cited Bush’s approval rating as 50 percent and disapproval rating as 43 percent, which political science professor David Campbell described as “historically low” for a second-term president.Campbell cited approval ratings for Presidents Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Eisenhower from Pew or Gallup polls all conducted during a similar time. The lowest – Clinton’s 59 percent – was still significantly higher than Bush’s.”What appears to have happened is as we go through the post-election period [is] we’ve kept that sense of divisiveness,” Campbell said.Similar to the Pew poll, a Washington Post-ABC poll for Jan. 12-16 found Bush’s approval rating to be 52 percent and disapproval rating to be 46 percent.When broken down into subcategories, the poll showed only 33 percent of Americans “approve strongly” of Bush, while a full 35 percent “disapprove strongly.””He’s not beginning, in reality, with a big wave of support,” political science professor Peri Arnold said.Regarding public opinion, “nothing’s changed” since the bitter election season, said American Studies professor Tom Guglielmo.And while tempers always subside following an election, Campbell said, the president is not likely to benefit.”There’s going to be no honeymoon for Bush,” Campbell said.American Studies professor Robert Schmuhl agreed.”We’re certainly divided,” Schmuhl said. “There are a number of reasons for that – in part because of some of the figures who have been most prominent politically in recent years.”Tom Rippinger, co-president of College Republicans, noted the contentious atmosphere that still prevails after the November election. “The political climate’s still polarized because of Iraq, with the war still going on, and the violence,” he said.Nicola Bunick, co-president of College Democrats, said the liberal opposition to Bush was still thriving.”A lot of people do still feel that opposition,” Bunick said.While Bunick acknowledged that some members of the general public are “put off and tired” after the intensity of the election, many liberals still have energy and a desire to push for reform.”The more vocal elements on the left want to make it clear to the public that this stuff hasn’t changed, it’s still going on,” she said, referring to issues of liberal focus during the election.Reflecting upon the vehemence present among some members of the Democratic Party, Arnold said the polarization was based not just on party, but also on Bush himself.”George Bush is a lightning rod,” he said. “Liberal Democrats see Bush as objectionable because of his style, open invocation of appeals to religion, the veiled appearance and references to the notion that there’s a divine intervention in politics that he represents, and policies aimed at undoing the 70 years of accumulated policies from the New Deal.” Arnold saw limited possibilities for Bush to unite the country.”There’s nothing Bush can do – except not be Bush,” he said. However, some of the division is overstated, according to Campbell.”Often from the press we hear references to red and blue states, polarization, the sense of a divided country,” he said. “It’s easy to overplay that. Looking back over the entire span of history, we’re not much more so.”Professors and students both said they thought the second term would progress much like the first term.”He’s going to keep doing what he’s doing, pleasing about 53 percent of the population and making the other 47 percent pretty mad,” Campbell said.Campbell said when Bush entered office in 2000, the speculation in Washington, D.C. was that he would be middle of the road, reaching out to Democrats in a bipartisan fashion.”But the exact opposite happened,” Campbell said. “Bush signaled publicly that he considers himself to have a mandate.”Arnold also questioned the idea of a mandate.”Does he have a mandate in major change for Social Security? Of course not,” he said. “But the President is the biggest megaphone in public life.”Although Bush will have a Republican Congress during his second term, it is unclear how much ability he will have to enact significant change.”It will be possible, but difficult to sign all Republicans onto one issue – I think his chances are less than a coin toss,” Arnold said.Lauren Galgano, president of Notre Dame Right to Life, said she welcomed the president’s second term.”I am excited to see what the team can accomplish with the new dynamics,” she said. “I wouldn’t say President Bush has a mandate by any means, but he should certainly feel confident that the majority of the nation supports his leadership.”Galgano said she is confident Bush will stand firm on his anti-abortion stance.”[He will] nominate competent judges who not only uphold the sanctity of life, but understand the Constitution as it was intended to be read by our Founding Fathers,” she said.Bunick said during Bush’s second term, Democrats want to draw media attention to problems they see occurring.”There are unjust policies that I know a lot of Americans don’t want to happen,” Bunick said. “It’s not something that can be dropped now that the election’s over.”