How will history judge Bush?
Never in polls has one president experienced such highs and lows in job approval.
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Bush can certainly hope for a similar rehabilitation in the history books. But for now, his assertions of indifference notwithstanding, the president and his White House have gone to unprecedented lengths in these final weeks to try to shape his legacy. Exit interviews with Bush and Mr. Cheney have blanketed the media. Top Bush advisers, current and past, including Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, have organized a "Bush legacy project," according to conservative journalist Stephen Hayes. The White House has posted online a 50-page defense called "100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record." Point No. 1: "Kept America Safe."Skip to next paragraph
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"You've got something that is unusual – the degree to which they have marketed what their legacy will be," says Stephen Hess, a veteran of the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "I think there's a feeling more than in many presidencies that they weren't appreciated."
The absence of terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11 is a recurring theme on the farewell tour. Another is the economy – not all the terrible news, but the six years of economic growth that preceded the crisis. And don't forget the across-the-board tax cuts, key to keeping the Republican base happy as the president strayed from conservative orthodoxy in other areas.
Bush also claims credit for trying to reform the immigration system and Social Security, two risky ventures, as he spent political capital on each and came up empty-handed. On immigration, he favored a plan to tighten border security, create a temporary worker program, and allow illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. A majority of Republicans balked at what they called "amnesty." On Social Security, Bush wanted to allow workers to invest part of their payroll tax in private accounts – a plan congressional Democrats uniformly opposed. By this point in Bush's presidency, the start of his second term, his popularity was on the wane, drifting below 50 percent as Iraq war opposition grew, and he could not get GOP congressional leaders to carry water for the plan. After hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans that summer, Bush's political capital was gone.