You know polls are rotten when vultures are circling


Maybe it is because of the polls.

Or maybe it was just me.

But I have never seen George Bush look as old as he looked on Friday.

All presidents age rapidly in office. But they age more rapidly when the polls are bad.

George Bush's polls are very bad. And when he walked into the White House briefing room for his news conference, I thought he looked about 80 instead of the 68 he is.

His face was drawn, and there were deep vertical grooves under each cheekbone.

His eyes seemed to sit even deeper in their sockets, and his suit jacket gaped at the neck, giving the impression that he had lost a lot of weight.

And when he read his prepared statement, his voice seemed almost lifeless.

"Some good precursors of stronger growth are definitely in place," he said. "For example, interest rates and inflation are at their lowest level in a generation, creating conditions for sustained growth."

So how come we don't have sustained growth?

That is what you wanted to shout.

How come every time you pick up the paper you are reading a new batch of workers being laid off?

General Motors one day. IBM the next. And now thousands of postal workers.

But it is not just the economy that is hurting the president. It is the mood of the nation and his current image.

The mood of the nation is a combination of anger and disgust.

And the image of the president is . . . well, if two vultures had flown into the press room and perched on each of his shoulders, nobody would have been surprised.

It is as if all the energy had been sucked out of his body.

Can this be the same George Bush who told Saddam Hussein that his aggression "will not stand!"

Is this the same George Bush who drew his line in the sand?

It doesn't seem to be.

This seems to be the George Bush who struggles to present to the American people a coherent reason as to why he wants to be president for four more years.

He was asked about this at his news conference.

He was asked: "Why do you think, after so many years in public life and four years as president, there are still questions out there about what George Bush really stands for?"

And what was George Bush's response?

"I'm not sure I know the answer to that," he said.

.' And you could see the vultures

circle once and descend.

Then Bush tried to rally from what he knew had been an awful answer.

"But they'll sure know it by the time they go into the voting booth in November!" he said.

Will we? By what magical process?

By forcing Secretary of State James Baker to leave a job where he is performing meaningful service for his country in order for him to become the president's chief political hack?

James Baker does not want to do this. He cannot refuse his president. But he does not want to do this.

And so he is dispirited, too.

So who will save the president?

Barbara. The nation still loves Barbara.

She will be a featured speaker at the Republican convention in Houston. She is George Bush's ace in the hole.

But how much can she really do? What much can she really say?

Maybe Bush will be forced to put up huge billboards around the nation:

George holding a pistol to Barbara's head with the caption: "Vote for me or I'll pull the trigger!"

Maybe that would do the trick.

This weakness might pass. George Bush looked weak at the beginning of his campaign four years ago when everyone was calling him a wimp. And he turned the election around.

But he had Michael Dukakis helping him them. And Willie Horton.

Today, he faces a rejuvenated and rehabilitated Bill Clinton.

And Bush's campaign aides cannot even whisper the word "bimbo" without having the press land on them with both feet.

"We are poised for a strong recovery," George Bush said Friday.

He was speaking of the economy, but he could have been speaking about his own campaign.

He is poised. Like a man on a diving board.

Hoping there is water in the pool.

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