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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid