Difficult choices loom as Bush charts recovery

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By Dan Balz WASHINGTON, The Washington Post

President Bush’s descent from the euphoria of an against-the odds re-election victory one year ago this week to the current reality of a White House in crisis has been as rapid as it has been unexpected. Presidential advisers and outside analysts say the route back to genuine recovery is likely to be slow and difficult—and without a clear blueprint for success.

Friday’s indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby dealt another big blow to public confidence in the administration, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Bush’s approval rating fell to 39 percent—the lowest recorded by this poll in his presidency—and a majority of Americans said the charges signal broader ethical problems in the administration. By a 3-1 ratio, those surveyed said the level of honesty in government has declined during Bush’s tenure.

With its ability to command public attention and frame the national agenda, the presidency is a supremely resilient institution, and such recent occupants as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have bounced back from adversity. But Bush faces such a complex set of problems—an unpopular war in Iraq, high energy prices, the costly challenge of rebuilding New Orleans, a fractured party, disaffected independent voters and little goodwill on Capitol Hill- that his prospects are particularly daunting.

Beyond that is the question of whether Bush needs to make fundamental adjustments to a governing and political style that has given him electoral success but left the country deeply polarized. With his Republican base showing signs of discontent and independent voters more disaffected than ever, Bush faces a potential trade-off on every important decision that could cause him to lose as much ground with one part of the public as he gains with another.

“What the public wants is back-to basics governance and decision-making,” presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said Saturday. “This is not a situation in which it changes overnight or that there’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass that changes the dynamic… . There’s not a magic bullet.”