Bush at the U.N.: Another Political Masterstroke?

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President Bush has been so busy lately giving speeches and taking questions about terrorism and Iraq and the ideological battle against Islamo-fascism that he's practically owned the airwaves. Which is just what Karl Rove wanted. Bush's address at the United Nations General Assembly today may have been a long-scheduled, annual diplomatic event. But it was also a key piece in an elaborate Labor Day political strategy devised by the man whose job it is to keep Republicans in control of Congress in November and thereby salvage the President's legacy. In the past two and half weeks Bush has given a major address on detainee policy, a series of speeches surrounding the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and an extensive press conference — all of them covered as Presidential rather than political events by the cable channels and, for the most part, the broadcast networks. ABC even broke into its daytime programming to carry Bush's United Nations speech this morning. The result has been saturation coverage of the President talking tough on terror, just as Rove planned.

Democrats and some observers have argued that the old strategy — that making the election about national security, a traditional G.O.P. strength — wouldn't work this time because voters have gotten wise to it and are generally fed up. But this morning's Gallup Poll numbers in USA Today suggest otherwise; Democrats may have reason to panic. Bush's approval at 44% isn't great, but it's a 12-month high. Still better news for the G.O.P. is the so-called "generic " — in which likely voters say whether they plan to vote Republican or Democratic in congressional races this fall. The result — a 48-48% tie — is potentially catastrophic for the Democrats. Recent polling history suggests the Dems need at least a 5-point advantage in the generic just to break even in the midterms. This is just one poll, and it's just a snapshot. The Democrats' advantage may reappear. But for now, it's clear that Rove's strategy is working.

As politics, the President's United Nations speech was genius. It almost didn't matter what he said as long as he talked tough. He lectured the bad guys — Syria, Iran, Hamas, etc. — and promised to stay the course in Iraq. He invoked 9/11. He said he hoped for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis with Iran but offered no new means to achieve it. He was Presidential. Expect another bump up in the polls.