Is George W. Bush having a comeback? It looks like that might be the case, depending on how “comeback” is defined. With his presidential library set to open on Thursday, W. is scoring his highest poll numbers since 2005, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Forty-seven percent of respondents in the survey say they now approve of how President Bush performed during his eight years in office.
Gee, that’s not much different than President Obama’s current score, is it? Over the last three months the nation’s current chief executive has averaged a 49.7 percent approval rating. Just saying.
OK, Bush’s polls are still underwater, in the sense that more people – 50 percent of respondents, in the Post/ABC survey – disapprove of his performance than give it thumbs up. And for W., “highest poll numbers since 2005” is not a high bar, given that his approval rating began to plummet about then and bottomed out at only 23 percent about the time he left office.
Plus ex-presidents typically see a gradual but steady rise in their popularity after leaving office. Their failures fade, their successes seem hard-won in retrospect, and they’re not engendering any more controversy. Famously, Jimmy Carter rates much higher in the public esteem today than he did in 1980. Bill Clinton? The Big Dog remains the nation’s most popular living former Oval Office occupant, according to a Pew Research matchup.
But, at the least, the ex-president from Texas who’s a new grandfather and Painter of Dogs ™ in his spare time seems to be having a moment. His partisans have taken to the media to defend him this week prior to the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
On her “Right Turn” Washington Post blog, Jennifer Rubin holds that “many of [Bush’s] supposed failures are mild compared to the current president."
Bush rallied the country after 9/11, mostly presided over an era of prosperity, and launched the “fiscally sober” Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, according to Ms. Rubin.
Over on Fox News, Bush political guru Karl Rove appeared on “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday and defended his former boss, saying that Bush provided “decisive leadership” when the US economy cratered in 2008 and did better among Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney. US voters should realize how complicated the Middle East would be today if Saddam Hussein remained in power, said Mr. Rove.
“People are now able to be looking back and saying that the things he did right, we better understand,” said Rove.
This is not an attitude universally held by the nation’s political chattering class, as you might imagine. Over at Foreign Policy Magazine, Dan Drezner, Fletcher School professor of international politics, writes that the revisionist George W. Bush seems pretty much like the old George W. Bush to him.
It’s true that Bush has been a pretty good ex-president, writes Mr. Drezner. He’s generally avoided controversy, unlike his own ex-vice president, Dick Cheney. And the performance of Bush’s economic team in the face of the financial meltdown deserves credit.
“George W. Bush helmed a war of choice that proved, in the end, to impose powerful constraints ... for American foreign policy. He pursued his foreign policy aims in such a way as to dramatically lower US standing abroad,” writes Drezner.
And at the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, points out that many more conservative Republicans have criticized Bush 43 in recent years as a big-spending, big-government president in GOP clothing.
“According to a very frequently repeated (if sometimes indirect) conservative account, W. and his minions convinced Republicans to sell their birthright of ideological rigor for a mess of swing-voter pottage that failed politically as well as morally,” writes Kilgore.
Perhaps the most interested observer of the Bush revisionism thus may be brother Jeb Bush, whose 2016 ambitions could depend on how conservative Tea Party types judge his family as a whole.