News / USA

Library Dedication Rekindles Debate Over Bush's Place in History

Former U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center as U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens during the ceremony on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center as U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens during the ceremony on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
— Thursday’s dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas is sure to rekindle the debate over the former president’s place in history. Public opinion polls showed Bush was highly unpopular when he left office in 2009. Some recent surveys, though, suggest his approval rating is making a bit of a comeback.

Former president George W. Bush has always insisted he was never bothered by opinion polls and that history will be the final judge of his presidency.

At the dedication of his presidential library, Bush said he hoped his administration will one day be remembered for advocating the spread of freedom.

“The political winds blow left and right. Polls rise and fall. Supporters come and go. But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold,” he said.

  • Former president George W. Bush waves three fingers, signifying his place in U.S. history as the 43rd president during the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013. (VOA/Brian Allen)
  • Former president George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and President Obama share a lighter moment during the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013. (VOA/Brian Allen)
  • Former president George W. Bush and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, arrive at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
  • President Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
  • From left, First Lady Michelle Obama, former first lady Laura Bush, former first lady Hillary Clinton, former first lady Barbara Bush and former first lady Rosalynn Carter at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
  • The exterior of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas. Texas.
  • A replica of the Oval Office is seen during a tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, April 24, 2013.
  • Displays on presidential policy in the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 24, 2013.
  • Former Ghana President John Kufuor speaks with former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

History's determination

Historians say it can be difficult for presidents to either escape the judgment of history or to try to alter it once they are out of office.

Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas and an expert on the presidency, said the former president faces some daunting challenges in trying to change the perception of his administration over time, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq.

“If Iraq becomes the flower of democracy that blooms 20, 30, 40 years from now and spreads to the rest of the Middle East, it’s very likely the president’s highly controversial decision to invade without provocation will be forgiven. Right now it would be hard to predict that with confidence or certainty,” said Buchanan.

When Bush left the White House in early 2009, his approval rating had dipped to 33 percent. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, however, found his approval had climbed to 47 percent, giving Bush supporters some hope that his image will improve over time.

Evolving judgments

Former presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon also left office under a political cloud. Truman was unpopular because of the Korean War. Nixon was forced to resign the presidency because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Over time, Truman’s approval ratings improved, but that was not the case for Nixon.

Buchanan said George W. Bush is hoping his post-presidential popularity follows the Truman model.

“One of the things people seemed to like about President Bush is that he stayed out of the limelight. He didn’t get out there like Richard Nixon did and try to resurrect his own image. He left it to others,” he said.

Historian Richard Norton Smith said ex-presidents often become more popular over time, especially in the modern information age. He said that was not the case for many U.S. presidents in the country’s early years.

“Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers worries that former presidents would be like ghosts wandering around and haunting their successors with nothing particular to do. And the fact of the matter is that for the first 100 years or so of the republic, there was some truth to that,” said Smith.

Post-presidential legacies

In the modern era, former presidents like Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have dedicated themselves to public service. Hoover, for example, led the effort to combat starvation in Europe following World War II.

Buchanan said some of the presidents least successful in office were able to burnish their reputations by the work they did after they left the White House.

“Most of the books still being written about Carter are not very flattering in terms of their treatment of his presidency," he said. "But he’s increasingly regarded as the best ex-president in American history because of his good works.”

President Barack Obama attended the Bush Library dedication and it’s possible he took a few mental notes. Obama is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term and is slated to join the ‘ex-presidents club’ when he finishes his second term in January 2017.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid