Are we hearing the opening chords of the George W. Bush redemption song? The Atlantic thinks so. This week he’s opening his huge presidential library, and a new Washington-ABC poll shows that his job approval rating now – more than four years after he left office – is 47 per cent, as high as it was just after he won re-election in 2004. Ron Fournier has written a piece for the National Journal entitled ‘Go on admit it, George W Bush was a nice guy.’ He tells some touching anecdotes, including this one:
One steamy summer day in 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush called me with an exclusive interview and interrupted my first question. ‘What’s all that noise in the background, Fournier?’ he asked.
‘I’m at the pool with my kids, governor.’
Bush replied, ‘Then what the hell are you doing answering your phone?’
Damn good question, sir. We quickly ended the interview.
Bush II, much like Tony Blair, still inspires profound loyalty among those who know him personally. I remember sitting next to one of his staff at a wedding in Texas. She actually welled up when describing what a good guy he was. ‘Just don’t mention the Iraq war!’ someone whispered in my ear. He invited affection because he treated others kindly – remembered people’s names, gave them nicknames, asked them about their families – and because he was so viciously demonised in the media. He had charisma, charm and a sense of humour – qualities conspicuously lacking in most of his liberal opponents.
But it should be obvious that being a nice guy is not the same as being a good President. Lots of Americans might today tell polls that he ‘did a good job’, but they are not so forgiving when asked directly about his handling of the economy and Iraq.
Time heals and absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. But the sudden rehabilitation of George W. Bush’s presidency seems somewhat premature – and suspiciously timed to coincide with a PR drive for his new library. He may be loved in Africa, where he built lots of roads, but his War on Terror has been a disastrous waste of blood and treasure. (Coffee House readers please note: this is not to say Obama has done much better.) Bush was by no means entirely responsible for the financial crisis, but he spectacularly failed to deal with it. He saddled the Republican party with an unsustainable ‘big government, low tax’ agenda.
He encouraged the dream of a compassionate but small state which picked up the bill for nearly everything but didn’t ask for much money. He should be cherished as a good man, and forgiven for his failings, but that doesn’t mean we should go all gooey-eyed about his presidency.