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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Polarizing U.S. Ahead of '04 Election

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush promised during the 2000 election that he would change the tone of politics in Washington. Yet seldom has U.S. politics been so polarized and uncivil, not just in the capital but across the country.

Despite a national coming-together after the terrorist attacks whose two-year anniversary is this week, recent polls suggest Bush has become as polarizing as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were while in the White House.

"He has squandered the good will of the world after Sept. 11 [2001]," Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, declared last week. Kerry and the eight other Democrats seeking the presidency kept up a barrage of attacks, not only against the president but one another.

"This president is a miserable failure," Representative Dick Gephardt, a Democrat, proclaimed at the first in a series of major candidates' debates. Bush was expected to address his handling of Iraq and the war on terrorism in a televised speech to the nation Sunday evening.

Roughly one in three voters say there is no chance they would ever vote for Bush's re-election. About the same number indicate they would vote for him no matter what. Polls suggest Bush has made little inroad among Democratic voters despite a surge in his approval ratings after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and during the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Congress, under narrow Republican control, is mired in a state of near-gridlock, even though elections are more than a year away.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is stymied by Democratic filibusters, which led to last week's withdrawal of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada. For more than two years, Democrats had blocked his nomination for a federal appeals court judgeship.

Rancor has been increasing, especially in Congress, said Charlie Black, a strategist and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "I guess you could say the trend continues," he said. "A big part of it is that the parties tend to be more philosophically polarized. There aren't many conservative Democrats left, and there aren't many Republican liberals left."

What does this mean for Bush's re-election efforts?

"Any president has to run on his record anyhow. So he needs to accentuate the positive as much as he can -- and be a good counterpuncher," Black said. Analysts give a variety of reasons for the lack of civility and political rage. They cite the difficulty of finding middle ground on issues such as abortion and Iraq, deepening cultural differences and parties' desires to right what they see as past wrongs.

Democrats are still fuming over the narrow loss of the 2000 election and the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Many Republicans harbor resentments toward the Clinton presidency and still want to settle the score with Senate Democrats who torpedoed Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.