Do Americans Like George W. Bush Better Than Barack Obama?
According to a new poll, they sure do. The poll found that since leaving office, President Bush’s approval rating has climbed significantly. Upon leaving office in January of 2009, Bush had an approval rating in the mid to low 20’s. Now, when asked to look back upon Bush’s performance, respondents gave him an approval rating of 47%. Meanwhile, President Obama appears to currently have an approval rating of around 45%. So how could fortunes turn around so quickly for Bush, whose departure from Washington was cause for celebration around the world?
Bush’s memoir Decision Points was recently released, and the former president has emerged from hiding to go on a publicity tour of the book. I have not yet read it, but from the interviews I have seen of Bush, I will admit that my opinion of him has increased. There is no question this book tour was aimed at repairing the reputation of the president. In addition, his memoir focuses specifically on the decisions he made as leader and the reasoning behind it. In doing so, the public gets a glimpse inside the White House, to see what exactly was going through the president’s head when he made the decisions.
The book tour has also allowed Bush to be far more candid than he ever was as Commander in Chief. He has talked openly about his drinking, and many other personal stories. Through this, we have seen a more human side to Bush, and many have likely been able to sympathize with him. He has been funny, warm and engaging in some of his interviews, and I think it is fair to say we rarely saw that when he was president.
Another interesting fact about Bush’s post presidency has been his silence regarding the Obama administration. Not once has Bush offered a critique of his successor’s presidency. Wisely, Bush has decided not to be a thorn in Obama’s side and to let him govern as he would like. Bush likely realizes how little credibility his suggestions may have, but also how annoying it can be when your predecessor constantly critiques you. I think this has helped to improve Bush’s image.
History often looks more kindly upon presidents. Time is the great determinant of how a presidential legacy will be crafted. It will obviously be many years before we really know how Bush will be received, but for now it appears he has successfully begun repair to his image.
As for Obama’s approval rating, to have an approval rating near 50% halfway through your presidency is quite impressive. There is no question his rating has dropped recently, and the midterm elections were a terrible blow to the president, but it appears he is managing to get by in the eyes of the electorate.
Meanwhile, another former president has seen his approval rating plummet. Jimmy Carter now sits at around 51% approval for his time as president back in the late 70’s. This is a decent number, but not at the same level he enjoyed in 2008 and 2009. It seems that when Carter is off doing humanitarian work, or helping to oversee democracy in other nations, his approval ratings go up. It is hard to dislike a man who is giving his time and money to a good cause. But when he writes another book, or goes on a speaking tour to discuss an issue he likes, his approval rating goes down. He recently released another book, and has been more visible on TV, perhaps leading to the decline in his approval rating. Americans only like Carter when he is not showing up on their programs and in their newspapers.
The questions I have for everyone, are how do we determine a presidential legacy? Is it possible to properly determine how good of a president an individual was? How long do they need to be out of office to get an accurate reading?