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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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 Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs