Update: Getting five living U.S. presidents together offers a profound visual of American democracy. To hear them speak of each other with respect and admiration for the complexities of the top job in the world is humbling. Say what you will about former President George W. Bush, and President Obama did on Thursday, the guy deserves some credit. In his speech Obama credited Bush with ” leading the global fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, helping to save millions of lives and reminding people in some of the poorest corners of the globe that America cares and that we’re here to help.” Obama also hailed Bush’s bipartisan approach to education “reaching across the aisle to unlikely allies like Ted Kennedy, because he believed that we had to reform our schools in ways that help every child learn, not just some.” Obama’s salute underscores the ways Bush’s legacy will be a complex mix of good and terrible.
Earlier: Here’s proof that time apparently does heal some wounds. On the eve of Thursday’s dedication of Bush’s presidential library and museum in Dallas, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 47 percent of Americans now approve of the former president. Half of Americans still disapprove.
That’s an improvement over Bush’s 39 percent approval ratings when he left office. And among registered voters, it puts Bush’s approval ratings right around President Obama’s, according to the Post-ABC surveys.
President Obama has some serious work to do. His approval ratings ought to be higher than the former president’s. I’ll get to why in a minute. But this Washington Post story gives a contextual sense of why Bush’s raised approval ratings are such a surprise.
History tends to add a sympathetic tinge to events and people. Certainly Bush deserves credit for some things during his administration, for one, the generous U.S. contribution to the global fund to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. But I will always remember Bush’s glib, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” remark to the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, as an affront to Hurricane Katrina victims suffering while the federal response floundered.
For me, Bush’s legacy will come down to a single seminal moment: the former president’s insistence that the former Iraq leader, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction. The allegation became the pretext to invade that country. There were no weapons. Whether Bush was cuckolded by bad intelligence or in on the lie doesn’t matter anymore. The Iraq war has been a costly mistake in money and lives.
What will you remember about President Bush, the good, the bad and the in between?