The 7 best moments of George W. Bush’s presidency

April 24, 2013

George W. Bush's presidential library will be dedicated Thursday, an event that is bringing the 43rd president back into the spotlight in a way he hasn't been since leaving office in 2009.


George W. Bush stares at a portrait of George W. Bush.

As we noted earlier this week, Bush is experiencing something of a comeback in the minds of the American people, with nearly half -- 47 percent -- now approving of the job he did in office.

With that in mind, we thought it was worth highlighting Bush's seven best moments as president -- moments that look (for now) as though they will be remembered by historians as successes. Tomorrow we'll highlight his worst moments.

The moments are ranked below with No. 1 seen as the time for which Bush will be most fondly remembered. What did we miss? The comments section awaits.

7. His speech in Texas House after Bush v. Gore was decided.

After the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore in Bush's favor, the country remained at loggerheads over who had really won the election. With that fractiousness as the backdrop, Bush delivered a triumphant yet gracious speech on the floor of the Texas House on Dec. 13, 2000. "I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past," Bush said.

6. The passage of Medicare Part D.

The arm-twisting over Bush's prescription drug plan is famous/infamous in political circles; the 15-minute vote -- begun at 3 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2003 -- wound up lasting about three hours, and it was later revealed that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) offered to endorse a retiring congressman's son for his seat in exchange for a 'yes' vote. No matter how the bill became a lawpolls now show the program has bipartisan support, and seniors like it very much. Conservatives still gripe about the program's cost, but as with entitlement programs in general, Americans like it.

5. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

The passage of PEPFAR in 2003 was Bush's big entree into combating the global AIDS epidemic, and few things have garnered him such praise from all sides of the political spectrum. After spending $15 billion over the first five years, the program was renewed in 2008. A 2009 Stanford University study found that the program saved a million lives in Africa and HIV/AIDS rates declined by 10 percent in countries that received funding.

4. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout.

We just got through an election in which Bush's stewardship of the economy wasn't exactly a feather in the GOP's cap -- to put it mildly. But while the market crash occurred on his watch and conservatives still aren't happy about bailing out the big banks (or anyone else), economists are settling around the idea that the TARP bailout that Bush successfully pushed for averted an even worse crisis. The period itself will never be looked upon as Bush's finest, and "it could have been worse" isn't exactly something you put on your tombstone, but Bush closed out his tenure by securing a tough, bipartisan deal that many say averted catastrophe.

3. The Iraq surge.

It remains to be seen how Iraq emerges from the decade-long war there, but at one point it seemed all was lost. With the war dragging on and thousands of Americans dying, Bush in 2007 did something politically risky and unpopular: he asked for more troops. The so-called "surge" wound up working in the minds of the American people, with a 2010 CNN/Opinion Research poll showing 60 percent thought it was a success and 33 percent calling it a failure. President Obama even acknowledged at the tail end of the 2008 campaign that the surge was working beyond anyone's expectations. Iraq was never Bush's strong point -- particularly when it comes to the "weapons of mass destruction" justification for war -- but as with TARP, he may well have avoided an even worse situation by doing something that wasn't popular at the time.

2. The capture of Sadaam Hussein.

On Dec. 13, 2003, the former Iraqi leader was pulled out of what has been compared to a rathole in an altogether cathartic experience for the American people. A trial ensued, and then Hussein was hanged. "And now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions," Bush declared. "The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq."

1. (tie) His bullhorn speech at Ground Zero three days after 9/11....

...And his address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20...

...And throwing out the first pitch (a strike) at Yankee Stadium at Oct. 30.

Moments of great tragedy are also moments where leaders emerge, and Bush's presidency began with with a huge moment after which he acquitted himself very well and soared in popularity to almost unheard-of heights. (Bush's handling of Sept. 11, 2001, was what, in the end, gave him a second term in office.) And Bush's biggest success in the minds of the American people is that the country wasn't attacked once during the remaining seven years of his tenure.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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