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Fox Viewership of State of the Union Falls Dramatically
Times Daily
Deluded GOP cuts its lifeline
February 4, 2007

Perhaps drawn by the drama of watching President Bush address a newly Democratic Congress, more than 45 million Americans tuned into the State of the Union speech, a number that was up 9 percent from 2006, according to Nielsen ratings.

But interestingly enough, while the overall audience for the speech grew substantially, the number of Americans who watched the speech on the Fox News dropped dramatically. Hmmm. Wonder why? Maybe folks have lost the stomach for the kind of baloney served by the Fox apologists and propagandists.

According to Nielsen, Fox News drew 4.56 million viewers for its State of the Union coverage this year, down almost 2 million viewers from 2006. In fact, this year's number was easily the lowest number to watch the speech on Fox News since Bush delivered his first State of the Union in 2002.

However, the president's plummeting popularity isn't merely bad for business at his favorite propaganda outlet. Republican politicians -- those with presidential ambitions, as well as those just hoping to keep their seats in Congress in 2008 -- also see their future hitched to that of Bush, and the thought is inspiring a palpable panic, particularly outside the South.

It's beginning to look more and more like Karl Rove will be proved right -- the Bush administration really might inspire a permanent realignment of American politics -- although not exactly in the way Rove envisioned. Certainly, the poll numbers are terrifying for Republicans. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, asked Americans whether the country should go in the direction set by Bush or by the Democrats in Congress. Voters favored the Democrats by more than 2-to-1.

Polls also reflect what my e-mail traffic and conversations with conservative friends are reflecting -- an abandonment of the GOP by people who have long thought of themselves as Republicans but have finally come to the conclusion that the party has basically lost its mind on a lot of important issues and is not likely to recover its sanity.

In the ABC/Post poll, for instance, 56 percent of voters said they identified with the Democrats, compared to 34 percent with the Republicans, a significant swing from a few years ago.

As the Democrats can testify, that can create a vicious circle that is hard to reverse. With moderates fleeing the GOP, the remaining hard core will define the party's identity and demand ever more purity from its candidates, in turn making the party even less congenial to moderates.

That's likely to doom the candidacies of Republicans who might have broad appeal to mainstream voters, such as Rudy Giuliani and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. Hagel has been making more sense about Iraq for a lot longer than almost any politician in Washington, but his willingness to entertain an independent thought all but disqualifies him in the eyes of many in his party.

In Giuliani's case, a Time magazine poll says the former New York mayor is the most popular presidential candidate in the field, ahead of both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. But among hard-core GOP primary voters -- the people who control the nomination -- the gay-friendly, pro-choice Giuliani has little or no chance.

It's important to note, though, that if we're seeing a political sea change in America, it is not being driven by a basic change in philosophy. In that ABC/Post poll, just 23 percent of Americans described themselves as liberal, compared to 33 percent as conservative and 41 percent as moderate. Those numbers haven't changed much over time.

The problem lies within the party. On most of the issues important to Americans, the modern GOP has sold itself on a world view that sounds appealing in theory but is at odds with how things actually work in this world. At the national level particularly, their policies are hatched in the intellectual hothouses of Washington think tanks and have little application to how people actually live or behave.

In fact, you could compare a lot of Republican policies to the "concept cars'' automakers trot out at car shows. They gleam, they make onlookers ooh and aah, but they were never meant to be driven.

As the disaster in Iraq demonstrates, when that ideology encounters reality, it's like matter meeting antimatter, and everything goes kablooey.

Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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