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President Bush spoke of a promising "new breeze" in his inaugural speech, but he has mostly encountered political headwinds so far and critics see his turbulent first few weeks in office as a worrisome sign.

"Did we elect another Carter?" read the headline over a recent commentary by conservative columnist Kevin Phillips. The comment was a reference to Jimmy Carter, who was both unlucky and unpopular during his tenure as president from 1977 to 1981.Bush, who succeeded the immensely well-liked Ronald Reagan on January 20, got his first taste of the brutal pressures that accompany the presidency when someone leaked word three days later that his administration was mulling a plan to impose fees on bank deposits to shore up the tottering thrift industry.

The storm over the quickly rejected fee option was still going on when a controversy erupted over whether Dr. Louis Sullivan, Bush's nominee as health secretary, was out of step with his boss' tough anti-abortion stance.

No sooner was that matter resolved when questions about the character of defense secretary-designate John Tower created a full-blown crisis for Bush that has yet to play itself out.

Bush's efforts to set a high ethical tone for his presidency were further hampered by more minor controversies over potential conflicts of interest involving Secretary of State James Baker and White House counsel C. Boyden Gray.

"Nobody wants to find fault too quickly. Yet, at a little more than 50 percent, Mr. Bush's public opinion rating is low for this stage of a presidential term," Phillips wrote.

"Already, there is sub rosa talk about a Republican enactment of Carter administration bumbling," he said.

Top Bush aides shrugged off the criticism, saying these episodes had received more attention than would normally be the case because of the lack of radical change that ordinarily occurs - and generates headlines - when the White House changes hands.

Bush is the first president elected to succeed a U.S. leader of the same party since Herbert Hoover replaced Calvin Coolidge in 1929.

"In the first three weeks, we have done everything we set out to do," deputy White House chief of staff Andrew Card told Reuters. "George Bush wanted to set a tone for his administration of ethical behavior, service and values and he has done so."

But adding to Bush's problems were events beyond his control, like Friday's double-whammy on the economic front - a 1 percent January increase in the wholesale price index, the largest monthly jump in the closely watched inflation barometer in over three years, and a decision by U.S. big banks to peg the prime interest rate at 11 percent, its highest level in four years.

Analysts said higher borrowing costs could make it harder for Bush to reduce the deficit, his No. 1 priority.

The economic bad news came the morning after Bush's first address to Congress on his agenda for the country.