Today marks the dedication of the George W. Bush library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
If there is one take away from this dedication, it is that four years later, former President George W. Bush has won a wider appeal from the American public than he enjoyed at the end of his tenure in office. He now ranks almost as favorable in the eyes of the American public as current President Barack Obama according to recent polls. Hopefully this is proof that people will remember him for his virtues rather than his flaws — moreover his moral clarity as a commander-in-chief.
Although memory may fade as new generations of Americans come into age, the millennial generation will never forget some of the key moments in Bush’s presidency. From the courageous to the controversial and inspiring — interactive exhibits on display highlight the strong-willed Bush throughout the library.
Key moments in his presidency such as a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, the remnants of the famous Florida punch card ballots in his contested 2000 election, and the more controversial decisions such as the financial bailout, the Iraq War and his international focus on HIV and AIDS.
George H.W. Bush presided over tumultuous times in American history with a bullhorn eye for the later rather than now. It’s true that hindsight is 20/20 — it took Truman a good 20 years for his legacy to be realized. A compelling chart from Gallup and the Wall Street Journal details that all president dating back to 1946 have suffered from 20 point dips in their approval rating, some such as Truman and Nixon going as far down as approximately 20 percent near the end of their time in office.
In a remarkable turnaround, Bush’s approval rating has gone from a dismal 23% following the financial collapse in October 2008 to a stellar 47% — on par with Obama’s own approval rating according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier today.
Why is his approval rating at a 7-year high? He has kept out of the media limelight and avoided any opportunities to analyze what went right or wrong beyond his memoir, Decision Points. Like anyone, he made mistakes, and, they are in the past. While some — namely Democrats — will never forgive him for how he handled Katrina and his decision to go to war in Iraq. But, for the majority of Americans, the past is in the past.
Regardless of political affiliation, history is showing favorable to George W. Bush because he brought our country through tough times. “I think that because 9/11 is such a defining moment in our lives — like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination — people will start remembering 9/11,” said Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a pretty good job of uniting the country in those weeks of dire need. He communicated well; the government functioned."
The legacy Bush leads behind and evident today in the dedication is not of one who cared much about his approval rating, but as a chief of state who was a Decider. Decider’s don’t always win over the public, or even make the right decisions all of the time, but, as Bush writes in his memoir on a lesson he took from Roosevelt and Reagan, “was to lead the public, not chase the opinion polls.”