George W. Bush is almost popular again. As the 43rd president prepares to inaugurate his presidential library on Thursday (Stephen Colbert tells us all about it above), a new Washington Post/ABC News poll pegs Bush's popularity at a seven-year high. His approval rating for his eight years in office is up to 47 percent (50 percent still disapprove), from 23 percent in October 2008.
Several theories have emerged to explain Bush's rising fortunes. Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post credits Americans' "very short collective political memories," combined with Bush's decision to lie low and paint. National Journal's Ron Forunier suggests it's because, politics aside, Bush "is a good man." Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin posits that Bush's "supposed failures are mild compared to the current president." ("Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11," she writes, to aggressive eye-rolling.)
Even some liberals are warming slightly to 43. "Back in the day, I took a back seat to no one when it came to displeasure with" Bush, says Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. "But I'll admit that in the four years since he left office, my own feelings toward him have softened." He may have been a "terrible president," but "I'm not actively mad at him anymore," and today's Tea Partiers have "made Bush look like a moderate by comparison."
That doesn't mean Bush is popular with Democrats or some of the demographics the GOP is trying to win over: 73 percent of Democrats still disapprove of Bush, including 33 percent of conservative/moderate Democrats; 84 percent of black voters and 54 percent of Hispanics disapprove, too. And all of Bush's numbers are worse on his defining issues: 53 percent of all voters disapprove of his economic stewardship, and 57 disapprove of the Iraq war.
That disapproval includes many conservatives. The Republican Party is still grappling with how to deal with the Bush presidency, and the library-related assessments aren't necessarily good news, even with the former president's rising approval ratings.
Since 2008, "it's become something of a litmus test for 'movement conservatives' to denounce No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the spending levels associated with W's second term, everything he did or agreed to in response to the housing and financial disasters, along with the very rhetoric of 'compassionate conservatism,' as serial betrayals of the Reagan Legacy," says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly. "And many if not most conservatives consider the gradual accommodation of today's Republicans to proposals for comprehensive immigration reform a fresh betrayal first performed by Bush." Rubin and the other Bush boosters are placing a lot of stock in one poll, but "I suspect her revisionism is premature, even for Republicans."
There are some Republicans who can't stand the Bush renaissance, says David Weigel at Slate. But not that many. "The Tea Party's brand replaced Bushism; slowly, definitively, Bushism is taking back its turf." The GOP base never really abandoned Bush, and even "the Tea Party itself was delicate when it came to Bush-bashing," with the notable exception of the Ron Paul crowd.
I don't know — "I've been harshly critical of President Bush for some time now," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Between his profligate spending, erosion of civil liberties, and the wars, Bush was "not all that great of a president in my opinion and, depending on how the future goes, possibly the one responsible for a world that isn't going to be very pleasant." It isn't really in the GOP's interest to keep the spotlight on him.
The American people are forgiving, but they're not stupid and they're not going to forget the eight years of the Bush presidency all that easily. At this point, Bush's approval numbers are rising for largely the same reason that he was able to win the presidency to begin with. Everything else aside, George W. Bush strikes me as a pretty nice guy, and the American people are pretty forgiving of nice guys.... This Bush "rehabilitation" will only go so far before it runs headlong into the reality of what people actually remember about the Bush years, and the overwhelming evidence that they don't want to return to those days. [Outside the Beltway]
For a (real) conservative alternative to Stephen Colbert's assessment of the Bush legacy (see above), here's Pajamas Media's Glenn Reynolds and The American Interest's Walter Russell Mead:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 10 things you need to know today: November 23, 2014
- How to rescue the American family and fix the broken school system in one fell swoop
- Why insects are the future of food
Subscribe to the Week