Public softens on Bush, although his policies remain unpopular

George W. Bush’s presidential library will be dedicated Thursday at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and commentators are using the ceremony as an occasion to evaluate the former president’s legacy.

In the four years since Bush left office, the public’s opinion of him has improved, Dan Balz reports:

Days before his second term ended in 2009, Bush’s approval rating among all adults was 33 percent positive and 66 percent negative. The new poll found 47 percent saying they approve and 50 percent saying they disapprove. Among registered voters, his approval rating today is equal to President Obama’s, at 47 percent, according to the latest Post-ABC surveys.

Majorities said they still dis­approve of Bush’s performance on the Iraq war and the economy, but his economic approval numbers nearly doubled between December 2008 and today, from 24 percent to 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. Iraq remains the most troublesome part of his legacy. Today, 57 percent say they disapprove of his decision to invade, though that is down from 65 percent in the spring of 2008, the last time the question was asked. (Read the complete article here.)

Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews offers a thorough review of data on the Bush administration’s policies. The Fix observes that despite Bush’s improving popularity, many of his policies remain widely disliked:

What accounts for Bush’s resurgence? It’s likely due to a well-documented trend when it comes the public and their politicians: No matter how much people dislike someone when he/she is in office, the longer that person is out of office the more difficult it is to sustain that dislike. We have very short collective political memories. (That trait also explains why political second chances — Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner — can work in American society.)

Jennifer Rubin, however, argues that the better poll results for Bush are due to President Obama’s failures:

Only when we see a robotic, cold president like Obama do we remember fondly the tender, tearful love of country Bush often conveyed and the steely anger directed at our enemies. Only when a president completely bollixes up our relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis do we recall how warm and productive was our relationship with the Jewish state under Bush and how Israel proved willing to take “risks for peace” under the right circumstances. And only when we see our current president kick our friends and kowtow to our foes can we fully appreciate a president with strong personal bonds with leaders (e.g. Tony Blair) and fierce determination not to appease our foes.

Bush has said he does not regret some of his administration’s more controversial decisions, and Post opinion writer Richard Cohen excoriates Bush for this lack of remorse:

The man has the serene self-confidence of a ­divine-right monarch. Day or night, he seems to sleep well. . .

Another man in his position might stare at the ceiling at night, seeing the number 4,486 — the number of American dead in Iraq — blinking on and off. The death toll for Iraqis is much less exact — maybe as high as 1 million, maybe as low as about 100,000, still a pretty big number. The war enabled Iran to increase its regional influence, and the sheer senselessness of it so demoralized the American people — and the Obama White House — that we shy from foreign commitments. This is a ceiling plastered with rebukes. (Read the rest of Cohen’s column here.)

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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