The rehabilitation of George W. Bush: A timeline

Less than two years after Bush left office, the public is being much kinder to him in polls. Have Obama's problems led Americans to cut W some retrospective slack?

Looking better in retrospect?
(Image credit: Corbis)

As President Obama's approval ratings hit new lows in some polls, his once-toxic predecessor seems to be benefitting from what The San Francisco Examiner's Julie Mason calls "the sentimental gauze of hindsight." George W. Bush's legacy favorability rating has risen considerably in Gallup polls, he has a book coming out in October, and Republicans are cautiously starting to embrace him again. Here's a look at the possible burgeoning rehabilitation of our 43rd president:

Nov. 2008

Bush's successor, Barack Obama, is elected. Bush has a public-approval rating of 25 percent (Gallup).

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Jan. 2009

Bush's two terms in office end, with his approval rating at 34 percent (Gallup) and 22 percent (CBS News/NY Times) — among the lowest ever for a departing president. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both left office with 68 percent approval ratings. Obama's incoming approval rating is 68 percent (Gallup).

Feb. 2009

Bush wins grudging plaudits from some liberal commentators when the news emerges that, over his final days in office, he stood up to relentless pressure from Vice President Cheney to pardon convicted perjurer and former Cheney staffer Scooter Libby. "What's that crazy feeling...?" asks Alex Pareene at Gawker. "Is it... grudging respect for the former president?"

March 2009

Coming out of the depths of the financial crisis, Gallup has Bush's favorability rating at 35 percent.

April 14, 2009

With Dick Cheney levelling frequent attacks at the new administration, a Boston Globe news headline declares: "Bush's high road highlights contrasts with Cheney." The paper suggests that Bush's "refusal to undermine Obama, coming after a very dignified transition, suggests a determination to put the welfare of the country ahead of politics or legacy-shaping."

Feb. 8, 2010

A Minnesota billboard with a smiling, waving Bush and the words "Miss me yet?" gains national attention when a local public radio reporter does a story on it. The billboard, up since December, was paid for by a group of anonymous "small business owners and individuals who just felt like Washington was against them," according to the billboard's owner.

April 21

Gallup finds that more than a year after Bush left office, 75 percent of Americans still blame him for the sad state of the economy, versus 50 percent who blame Obama. It's an improvement over July 2009, when Gallup found that 80 percent blamed Bush and 32 percent blamed Obama.

July 18

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tells C-SPAN he thinks "President Bush's stock has gone up a lot since he left office," adding, "I think a lot of people are looking back with a little more — with more fondness on President Bush's administration."

July 21

Gallup reports a big leap in Bush's favorability rating, to 45 percent. He's finally in striking distance of Obama, at 52 percent. Gallup's Lydia Saad says all presidents hope "their legacy ratings will improve over time," and "that process may be starting for Bush."

July 23

"Is Bush entering a post-presidential renaissance?" asks Robert Schlesinger in U.S. News. But Paul Krugman at The New York Times isn't buying the idea of a revival, arguing that "the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies."

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