Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salter: Bush’s approval rating lowest, fallen from the highest in Oct., 2001

After a week of reporting on the issues that should shape a foreign policy debate from the perspective of a diverse group of Mississippians, I couldn’t help but give some thought to the man that both John McCain or Barack Obama are seeking to replace in the White House.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That’s because in the midst of the run up to the Oxford debate, President George W. Bush addressed the nation in a televised speech trying to sell the country on the merits of his outrageous $700 billion financial bailout — sounding for all the world like a rookie telemarketer trying vainly to peddle a time share condo in Boca Raton.

Officially, Bush is now the most unpopular American president — at least the most unpopular president since such statistics have been regularly recorded.

Worse than Nixon?

  A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released in May indicated that 71 percent of the American people disapprove of how Bush has handled his job as president. No president had ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup Poll.

The significance of that poll reverberates. Those numbers mean more Americans disapprove of “Dubya” than did the late President Richard Nixon before he resigned amid scandal in 1974 and more than disapproved of President Harry Truman at the lowest point of the Korean War and more unpopular than President Lyndon Johnson in the depths of the Vietnam War.

And presidents don’t fall through the floor of American voter disapproval just in times of war or scandal. The double-digit interest rates of the administration of President Jimmy Carter made him intensely unpopular, but not as unpopular as Bush.

That’s a long way from the apex of Bush’s popularity as president — those almost forgotten bipartisan days just after the 9-11 attacks when Bush’s approval ratings hit historic highs (in the neighborhood of an unprecedented 90 percent).

One of those days for Bush was the night of Oct. 30, 2001 — the night of Game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the homestanding Yankees. 

He threw a strike

“Ground Zero” at what once was the World Trade Center was still smoldering. The country was still afraid — afraid to fly, afraid of more attacks, afraid of the new world we all stepped into together after the Twin Towers fell.

Bush, wearing a FDNY fleece jacket with a bulletproof vest underneath, threw out the ceremonial first pitch from the pitcher’s mound — and threw a strike.

That one pitch, that one moment — was the high water mark of the Bush presidency. Never before, and never since, was the former Texas governor more popular, more admired and more appreciated during his two terms as president.

Over the next 40 days, America will choose a new president. Yankee Stadium will be demolished. Bush will begin the long goodbye that ends at a ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Whether that new president is Obama or McCain, the new president will face some enormous challenges. The world still isn’t particularly safe. The economy is downright frightening. And the country is badly divided.

Here’s hoping that the winner will have more days like Bush had at Yankee Stadium in 2001 — days that he can throw strikes when the country most needs to believe in the person elected to lead them.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail