“Dubya’s” Deification: Why Has President Bush’s Reputation Improved?

George W. Bush


Brian Sandler, Contributing Writer

Two months ago, as I sat in the comfort of my plush maroon couch watching one of my favorite shows, the relentlessly hilarious “Saturday Night Live,” the familiar voice of our former president, George W. Bush, could be heard. Now intensely missed since his departure from office in 2009, Bush, in his soft-spoken Texan drawl, addressed the nation with a sincere, but candid statement.

“Now I don’t know if you’ve read the news lately, I certainly have not, but according to the polls, my approval rating is at an all-time high,” he said.

“Donny Trump came in and suddenly, I’m looking pretty sweet by comparison. But I just wanted to remind you guys…I was really bad.”

Indeed, Will Ferrell, who donned the role of our former president once more, emphasized the absurdity of what he perceived as the sudden rise in approval of Bush’s presidency. Emphasizing maladies that occurred during his administration, such as the ongoing Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, his inadvertent role in leading to the rise of ISIS and the turbulent stock market, “Bush” made it clear that his presidency was not one to be sought after.

Could there be a reason as to why the former president has seen an upsurge in popularity in the midst of the current administration?

According to the experts, this is not a unique occurrence. Dan Merica, a writer for cnn.com, explained the phenomenon as far back as 2013.

“The saying goes: ‘time heals all wounds,’ and for most former U.S. presidents, that appears to be true,” he said.

“After leaving the constant scrutiny of the White House, a president’s legacy begins to take shape as professors, biographers and presidential historians start to take long, reflective looks at the president’s time in office.”

But does this theory hold any historical weight, or is it a hypothesis relegated only to the imaginations of the most fervent historians? Merica affirms that this has a solid basis in reality, with one of the country’s most recent presidents undergoing a dramatic change in reputation.

“[Bill] Clinton left office beleaguered by the Monica Lewinsky scandal but reinvented himself into a Democratic kingmaker of sorts,” he said.

“With his wife now a former secretary of state and his support of President Barack Obama through the 2012 election, Clinton’s image has benefited from life after the Oval Office.”

Perhaps most relevant to Bush’s recent ascendencey in post-presidential popularity is the effect that a more controversial president can have on one’s image. According to Rebecca Gordon of TheNation, this couldn’t be more true for former President Bush.

“During that October 17 speech in which he criticized Trump without mentioning his name, George W. Bush touted the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World,” she said.

“There, he bemoaned the degradation of political discourse by “casual cruelty,” noting that “bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

Will the recent actions of the contentious Trump administration completely erase the negative memories evoked by the Bush administration? The answer, according to Harry Westbrook of The Politic, is not as clear as one would think.

“When Bush left office almost nine years ago, for most there was no hesitation in their opinion of the former president,” he said.

Westbrook noted that an August 2008 Rasmussen Reports poll showed that 41 percent of the sample believed that Bush would go down as the worst president ever. By October 2017,  a Fox News poll found that 59 percent of voters now had a favorable view of Bush.

While there are various answers as to why former President Bush’s reputation has improved so dramatically in the nine years since he has left office, the one constant in every answer is that history ultimately plays a role. In 30 years from now, perhaps Bush will be ranked as one of America’s all-time greatest presidents. Whoever inhabits the throne can be either glorified or vilified and ultimately, that’s only up for time to decide.