Sooner or later - probably a little later - President Bush's job approval rating will climb again.

Instead of five out of 10 people thinking he's doing well overall, six or possibly even seven are likely again to give him a thumb's up - temporarily, at least.Chastened Republicans will cherish his fund-raising visits to their home districts. His aides, no matter how arrogant, again will be courted on Capitol Hill.

In the meantime, Bush's troubles illustrate the illusion of presidential power.

That power is nowhere near as vast as many people used to think.

Just as billions of dollars in the national budget turn out to be politically untouchable because they go to the elderly or buy defense jobs, the power of the Oval Office is not what it once was.

Bush is arguing that if he only had a Republican Congress, he wouldn't have the problems he has in "doing the right thing."

But aside from the argument that Jimmy Carter had a Democratic Congress and got nothing done, there is also an argument that Americans slyly like the system of checks and balances we have. A White House of one party and a Congress of another create a certain tension that keeps parties somewhat honest.

At least it prevents wholesale looting of the public's small remaining hoard of trust in democracy. At least it encourages debate.

As Bush found out to his dismay when Republicans in Congress turned en masse against him for endorsing the original bipartisan budget agreement, his orders are often not going to be obeyed even by his own party members.

In rapid order, Bush, who said he would never agree to an income tax rate hike or accept a budget without a capital gains cut, took the hike and kissed the cut goodbye.

Instead of admiring his willingness to compromise and be flexible to get the greater good of a budget agreement, the world started openly wondering if Bush would give in to Saddam Hussein and cede him parts of Kuwait.

When a young member of Congress didn't even show up to stand beside him when Bush traveled out of Washington to his fund-raiser, the White House said it was "understandable" because the man had to vote in the House.

On the same day, another young legislator whom Bush had come to help out said he disagreed with Bush on the two issues of the day - the budget and Bush's veto of the civil rights bill.

Instead of saying how thoughtful and kind Bush was for not upbraiding the young fellows or getting even with them, people started shaking their heads in disgust and muttering that the former captain of the Yale University baseball team has lost his mastery of hardball.

Even in foreign affairs, Congress insists on trying to govern with Bush. There are demands that if - most think "when" - war breaks out in the Middle East, Bush must get congressional permission to fight.

Bush, who watched Ronald Reagan's popularity ebb and flow, has reacted with alternating levels of frustration, puzzlement and patient resignation. He's confident he has the prestige and the inbred Washingtonian's innate savvy to carry the day, eventually.

He has decided to go with his gut instincts, "do what's right," work hard and wait for the tide to come back in for him.

It is an era dominated by polls, television and will o' the wisp principles, when Americans worry about where the great leaders have gone. It can be argued that presidential leadership and power as molders of national policy have been waning for a long time.

They don't seem to be making a comeback under Bush.