Almost everyone leads with a preview of tonight's State of the Union address, and all the stories have pretty much the same angle: President Bush is less popular now than at any point in his presidency and so has little political capital with which to advance his agenda. The New York Times off-leads that story and gives its top spot to an analysis of how Hillary Clinton's decision to pass up public money for her presidential campaign could be the "death knell" of the public campaign-financing system.
Three new polls have Bush's overall approval rating ranging from 28 percent to 35 percent. The surveys have all sorts of eye-popping numbers: According to the Washington Post/ABC poll, 51 percent of voters strongly disapprove of Bush's performance. In the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 65 percent of voters say they want U.S. troops out of Iraq in the next year.
The White House remained unbowed. From the NYT: "George W. Bush as a president," spokesman Tony Snow said, "is not somebody who is going to cease to be bold." This unceasing boldness is beginning to reach historic proportions, several of the papers note. Only Jimmy Carter has had a worse rating in the NYT poll. The Post goes back further: "Only twice in the past six decades has a president delivered his annual speech to the nation in a weaker condition in the polls—Harry S. Truman in the midst of the Korean War in 1952 and Richard M. Nixon in the throes of Watergate in 1974."
The cause of the unpopularity, of course, is Iraq, and the USA Today lead story focuses on how key Republicans are abandoning Bush on that front. Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a leading voice on defense issues, endorsed a resolution yesterday opposing the troop increase in Iraq. The NYT, WSJ, and WP stuff that story.
The Post's lead looks at how Bush may try to use his relatively popular domestic agenda to reach out to Congress, focusing on issues like health care, immigration, and education. The Post says "bold ideas" could also be in the offing on energy and the environment, but it doesn't know what they'll be. They won't, the Post says, include caps on greenhouse-gas emissions but could be a boost to ethanol or raising gas-mileage standards. It notes Iraq may have already so poisoned the political atmosphere that consensus will be difficult to reach even on domestic issues.
The Journal has a good front-page story on industry officials beginning to recognize that global warming is in fact caused by human activity, and angling early to influence the legislation that they feel will inevitably regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. Most industrialists favor a pollution permit market, believing that gives them the most flexibility.
Sen. Clinton's decision to forgo public financing in favor of more lucrative private donations was made "quietly," says the NYT, and "little noticed," said the Post, which also fronts a similar story. Well, someone noticed: The Los Angeles Times, in a story on Monday's front page. Everyone notes that both Barack Obama and John McCain may also eschew public money.
Only the NYT fronts the massive car bombs in a Shiite market in Baghdad yesterday, which killed at least 88. The Post fronts a good story by ace military reporter Tom Ricks on the strategy of the new top general in Iraq, David Petraeus. The story is chock full of details of Petraeus' plans, from unnamed "military planners and officials familiar with [his] thinking." Highlights include a greater importance placed on protecting the population than on fighting bad guys, and placing more U.S. soldiers outside of megabases and in Iraqi neighborhoods. The NYT has an evocative look at how that latter plan may work—in one unit's stroll around its new neighborhood, the soldiers are shot at three times in an hour. Still, it's too early to say if it will pay the expected dividends in gaining the trust of the population and gathering intelligence on enemies.
The LAT takes a skeptical look at the evidence behind claims by the Bush administration and intelligence officials alleging that Iran is funneling sophisticated weapons to insurgents in Iraq. In a front-page story, the paper says that the claims made in Washington don't always jibe with what commanders in Iraq say, and that the United States has refused to provide any documentation of Iranian weaponry, while often releasing photos of other seized ordnance. And the Iranians say that, in fact, the chaos is crossing the border from Iraq into Iran, that ammunition and "illegal equipment" is moving into Iran.
Everyone notes that one of the top officials in the recently deposed Islamist government in Somalia has turned himself in in Kenya.
Does a glue gun work in zero gravity? Martha Stewart has rendered her judgment on the décor of the International Space Station, USA Today reports. In a segment on her television show to be aired today, "Stewart noted later that there are limited options for spiffing up the station, whose interior is a jumble of computers and research gear. 'You can't hang curtains. Everything has to be tied down,' she pointed out. 'It could be, maybe, modernized a little bit and made a little more sleek inside.' " She also empathized with being cooped up and having to eat institutional food. " 'I know just as well as anybody that for five or six months, you can get along with a limited diet,' says Stewart, who spent five months in federal prison for lying about a stock sale. 'You just have to go with the flow, I'm sure.' "