No joy when U.S. residents lose confidence in president
The way people feel is a powerful psychological factor in how their country is actually doing.
By that measure, the United States is sinking into a malaise the country hasn't seen since the Jimmy Carter presidency.
The prevailing sense is that Americans like President Bush, appreciate his response to Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan, but they are uneasy and restless.
Statistics capture what's going on, and they are not encouraging. Sixty-five percent of the people responding to an Associated Press-sponsored poll are dissatisfied with the general direction the nation is going.
Specifically, 57 percent don't approve of the president's overall performance and only 41 percent think he's handling the war correctly. That large negative feeling weakens his ability to deal with Congress.
The war's not going well, the military is falling far short of recruitment needs and Congress is beginning to question how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq.
The war aside, Americans have a list of things they don't like. They are overwhelmingly against President Bush's Social Security overhaul, are growing more uneasy about expanding the Patriot Act and see the burgeoning national debt and wonder how to pay it.
President Bush is early in his second term and it's premature to proclaim him a lame duck in the Oval Office. But he needs some successes if he's to pull the nation forward.
Sept. 11 made it easy for the president to use his office to demand that Congress do things his way. He demanded and the nation followed.
Now it's time for him to lead the nation back toward the political center, the place where moderate politics cut the sharp edges from the extremes.
If he doesn't, the nation will remain stalemated until the next election.