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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid