George W. Bush, who has re-emerged recently in the national political discussion, is right that it is only history that will define his legacy.
In an ABC News interview Sunday, the former president was asked about his father's legacy and said that "eventually history will sort it out. I have no desire nor did he to kind of try to battle in the court of public opinion to define something that may or may not be true over time." His own nearly five years since leaving office supports this. Until recently, Bush has gotten more attention for his corgi paintings than his political actions or opinions.
But he was wrong when he told ABC that "the only way I can really make news is to either criticize the president, which I don't want to do, criticize my own party, or wade in on a controversial issue." His careful remarks on gay marriage and his talk of finding a resolution on immigration reform may have been sensible remarks that are unlikely to spark too much controversy, but Bush is indeed making news for his re-emergence—and what some may see as the beginnings of an effort to shape his post-presidential life.
In recent weeks he has commemorated the terrorist bombings in Tanzania with President Obama, spoken out about his work fighting AIDS in Africa and, yes, urged for a resolution on immigration reform. The timing may be coincidental, and his words may not yet have the sway of an elder statesman's, but they do have the weight of starting to shape the issues and actions for which he may one day be remembered.
Still, legacy talk seems a little premature. Legacy, one hopes, is defined not by what a former leader was most passionate about, or what got the most attention during his life or what he focused his energy on during his post-presidency. Legacies are shaped by which actions made the greatest impact—good or bad—on the world.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.