How do you know when a President and his Administration have abysmally failed and driven the country into a ditch? Just ask the American people.

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2003. . . .

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say that the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off. . . .

Only 21 percent of respondents said that the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, nearly two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.

To understand these results simply compare what Americans told pollsters with what Washington has done recently.

The predictable home foreclosure crisis has been building for months, but on Monday, Secretary Paulson proposed financial "reforms" prepared before the current crisis that do nothing to resolve it and little to prevent the next one. Paul Krugman called it "The Dilbert Strategy."

Yesterday, the architects of the Bear Stearns bailout told Congress that risking $29 billion of the Fed’s ‘ own reserves to rescue a single firm (and shield its purchaser), while making $200-400 billions more available to similar financial firms was "prudent."

"In short, we judged that a sudden, disorderly failure of Bear would have brought with it unpredictable but severe consequences for the functioning of the broader financial system and the broader economy," said Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, "with lower equity prices, further downward pressure on home values, and less access to credit for companies and households."

Not surprisingly, the Times/CBS poll shows Americans don’t agree with their government’s priorities:

In assessing possible responses to the mortgage crisis, Americans displayed a populist streak, favoring help for individuals but not financial institutions. A clear majority said they did not want the government to lend a hand to banks, even if the measures would help limit the depth of a recession. . . .

Respondents were considerably more open to government help for home owners at risk of foreclosure. Fifty-three percent said they believed the government should help those whose interest rates were rising, while 41 percent said they opposed such a move.

And Congress’ response? Senate Democrats agreed to give Republicans credit for helping struggling homeowners by accepting a "bipartisan" package of measures strongly tilted towards . . . bailing out lenders and builders! As for homeowners, a key measure Democrats had been pushing to allow bankruptcy courts to restructure mortgages was stripped from the package at Republican insistence and then quickly killed on a 58-36 motion to table, screwing consumers but pleasing the lenders.

Meanwhile, Americans are ready to jettison the Bush/McCain tax cuts for the rich and use that money to help the country:

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would support raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 to pay for tax cuts or government programs for people making less than that amount. Only 38 percent called it a bad idea. Both Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, the remaining Democratic presidential candidates, have made proposals along these lines.

Just like George Bush, John McCain has been on the wrong side of every issue important to voters: he approved the Fed’s Bear Stearns bailout, but opposes more regulation and is skeptical about helping homeowners; he supports Bush’s tax cuts for the rich; he’ll stay in Iraq for 100 years, even though Americans and Iraqis want us out.

The primary reason McCain isn’t sharing Bush’s dismal approval numbers and trailing Clinton/Obama badly is because the media are shielding him from political gravity. They need to let go and let the entire party crash. They’ve earned it.

Update: worst jobs report in five years, as 80,000 more lose jobs. (h/t eCAHNomics)