WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON in the White House? The past six months have been punctuated by a series of blunders, which is the last thing George W. Bush needs. Harriet Miers. Katrina. Scooter Libby. Jack Abramoff. Dick Cheney and the Armstrong Ranch. The Dubai ports deal. That list doesn’t even include the brouhaha over domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency or the impenetrable mess that is the Medicare prescription drug benefit program or the foolhardy decision to get in an argument with John McCain over the right to torture suspected terrorists. Nor does it touch other big issues that are not going the president’s way: the war in Iraq, energy prices, the deficit, nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea, Hamas heading the Palestinian government.
This is not a formula for a successful second term—not that many presidents have had successful second terms. They burn out, become isolated, wear out their welcome. Bush is showing signs of all three job hazards. In late February, in the wake of the Dubai deal, his job approval rating sunk to 34 percent in a CBS News poll, the lowest point in his presidency. Cheney’s approval rating is in