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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Ohio losing faith with President

By Justin Webb
BBC News, Washington

President George W Bush's reshuffling of his White House team is part of an attempt to salvage a reputation which seems to be sinking fast. But Justin Webb in Washington says it is too late to be tinkering with the staff: most Americans have already consigned President Bush to history.

George Bush holding umbrella
The storm clouds continue to gather for President Bush

I am here to report two conversations with two very different Americans on the subject of President Bush.

The first was with a woman who described herself to me as one of the biggest fundraisers for the president in the entire state of Ohio.

The second was with an illegal immigrant from Venezuela.

Guess who thought that Mr Bush could bounce back from his present difficulties? That's right, the illegal immigrant.

Is this in any sense good news for the president or his beleaguered party? Well, it might be but I will come to that in a bit.

First to Ohio, though. To Cleveland: an ordinary looking place, grey and depressed in late spring rain, rescued by the view from the centre of town. You look across the main square and suddenly everything changes - there's water as far as the eye can see - the glassy expanse of Lake Erie.

I left Cleveland surer than ever that the Bush era has ended

I am staying out of town, though, in the suburbs where - as in every American city - the rich congregate.

I am here to meet a group of ladies who lunch - serious people of considerable consequence in these parts; owners of newspapers and coal mines; lawyers or the wives of lawyers of national repute.

Champions, all of them, in the white Anglo-Saxon tradition who smell of soap and money.

On that subject, one told me of her financial difficulties. She was having trouble giving it away.

"I just shell it out but the investments make even more," she said wistfully.

Personal fortunes

Incidentally the amount of money amassed by individuals in every medium-sized city of this nation is one of the things that marks America out as a special and different place - partly the result of generous tax regimes for the rich and partly the hugeness of the American market.

If you make it here the rewards are as big as the nation itself.

The rescuing of the president is, for these people, no longer a topic worthy of conversation

Rewards which accrue to people like Frances, who picks me up from the hotel in a car plainly built for invading Iraq yet quaintly painted white in case, by some chance, you didn't see it.

There is even a white towel on the floor of the passenger's side. Apparently Frances's friends all have gleaming soles.

My point is that these folk are the cream of Middle American society, opinion formers, achievers and respecters of achievers.

They were not by any means all of them Bush backers in the past but, if the president was a force in the land, these folk would sniff it, notice it, respect it.

Looking beyond Bush

But they were almost unanimously - Republicans and Democrats alike - openly contemptuous of the commander-in-chief.

"Not the sharpest knife in the drawer," the big-time fundraiser sniffed sadly, as if writing off for tax purposes an investment which she now knew was simply never going to pay.

Motorist at filling station
The rising price of petrol is damaging the president's poll ratings

The rescuing of the president is, for these people, no longer a topic worthy of conversation.

They are looking ahead to a future where wars are not messed up, where reckless expenditure is reined in, where "White House competence" is not an oxymoron.

They were unanimously appalled for instance by a harebrained plan - now dropped - to give every American $100 to help them pay the high cost of petrol.

This money would have been added to the national debt: to fiscally conservative Republicans (and that should mean all Republicans) the craziest and most irresponsible use of government money.

If the president's party has descended to those depths, they argue, no amount of fiddling with senior White House appointments can really do the job.

I left Cleveland surer than ever that the Bush era has ended.

The big money players - in the widest sense of that term - no longer take him seriously.

But what of the future?

A different view

A visit to North Carolina this week brought me face to face with a humorous and thoughtful illegal immigrant, Carlos from Venezuela.

I was chatting to Carlos about the president and John Kerry, the Democratic contender he beat in 2004.

Carlos agreed that Bush had his troubles. "But," he said, "he's better than Kerry.

Why? John Kerry supports abortion rights.

From the bottom of the pile in American society - from a man who is not yet even a proper citizen here but whose children will be - comes a message that hostility to abortion and to homosexuality - a belief in other words in Bush values - is going to be the wave of the future.

In a few decades, more than a quarter of the people of this nation will be Hispanic immigrants and the great majority of them - like Carlos - will be socially conservative.

Too late of course to save this president, though not too late to re-write history in his favour.

The headlines scream "Bush finished" and in the short term the headlines are right.

But America is full of surprises.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 13 May, 2006 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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