Podhoretz said Democrats calling Bush "incompetent" would turn off voters, ignored polls that say many voters already think Bush is "incompetent"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz described Democrats' use of the term "incompetent" to describe President Bush as "an act of political cowardice," adding, "voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off." But a poll by the Pew Research Center reported that "incompetent" was the most frequently cited one-word description for Bush, and that, overall, negative impressions of Bush -- measured by respondents' selection of words such as "incompetent," "idiot" or "liar" to describe Bush -- outweighed positive ones, 48 percent to 28 percent.

In his March 21 New York Post opinion piece, columnist John Podhoretz described Democrats' use of the term "incompetent" to describe President Bush as "an act of political cowardice," adding, "voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off." But in a poll conducted March 8-12, the Pew Research Center reported that "incompetent" was the one-word description for Bush most frequently cited by respondents, and that, overall, negative impressions of Bush -- measured by respondents' selection of words such as "incompetent," "idiot" or "liar" to describe Bush -- outweighed positive ones, 48 percent to 28 percent.

In addition, a March 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked, "[H]ow competent would you say the Bush administration is in its role of managing the federal government?" Fourteen percent replied, "Very competent"; 39 percent, "Somewhat competent"; 22 percent, "Not too competent"; and 24 percent, "Not competent at all." So, 53 percent described him as either "very competent" or "somewhat competent," while 46 percent described him as "not too competent" or "not competent at all."

From Podhoretz's March 21 column, titled "The Censure Flap":

The real story is that, for the first time in a long time, Democrats have found themselves a workable, poll-tested, focus-grouped sound bite that they are confident will help them in their quest to wrest control of the House of Representatives and the Senate away from Republicans in November. That sound bite is the word "incompetent."

If you've listened closely to Democratic politicians over the past 10 days, you've heard it spoken about a million times. George Bush is incompetent. His White House staff is incompetent. His war-fighting strategy is incompetent. His handling of Katrina was incompetent. The implementation of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit has been incompetent.

Incompetent, incompetent, incompetent.

This unified and very simple message represents a nimble change of course the canniest Democrats effected at the start of 2005. They've been relentless and effective in knocking down the president's primary strength with the American people -- the popular sense that Bush is a strong leader with real convictions. They have, instead, painted him as a hapless bumbler who can't possibly believe the happy talk he offers on Iraq.

It has worked, to some degree.

The "incompetence" meme is the default position for Democrats. It's a unifying criticism; anyone can play. You can throw the term around no matter how you voted on the war resolution. It's entirely negative, but it doesn't smack of character assassination the way other anti-Bush arguments do. Calling Bush and the Republicans incompetent is a way of offering a critique. As an act of name-calling, it's far less incendiary than words like "liar" and "fascist" and "torturer."

But there are two major problems with it -- problems that aren't solved by running away from Feingold's censure resolution.

[...]

Problem No. 2: The "incompetence" attack is an act of political cowardice, and voters can smell that kind of cowardice a mile off. Partisan Democrats don't think Bush is incompetent. They think he's a bad guy and a worse president. But they don't quite think they can make the case well enough to carry the day with voters passionate enough to hit the polls for a midterm election in November.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
New York Post
Person
John Podhoretz
Stories/Interests
Polling
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.