"History will treat me fairly,” President Richard Nixon once famously said, “but historians probably won't.” So far, he has certainly gotten the first part right. George Bush’s legacy, however, has been on the mend since the end of his second term.
The former president’s favorability ratings began to dip dramatically immediately after the surge in Iraq, beginning in 2005. For the first time since then, more people view the president favorably than unfavorably. 49% of the population holds a “positive” opinion of President George Bush while 46% have a “negative” opinion.
This is a major improvement from Bush’s 35% favorability rating in April of 2009, with 59% disapproval rate. While both Democrats and Republicans saw a 14% bump, favorability among Independents increased dramatically from 29% in January of 2009 to 46% today.
Most presidents’ ratings improve several years after their presidency. Indeed, Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton all held approval ratings over 60% when last measured. Immediately after leaving office, President Truman had the lowest approval rating in history at a meager 22%. Now, however, Truman regularly ranks in the top ten most highly rated American presidents. The old adage seems to be proven true; absence makes the heart grow fonder. The cynic might chalk this up to simple nostalgia while the optimist might conclude that the benefits of each presidency are felt long after he has left the oval office.
It is difficult to speculate what might cause President Bush’s recent rise in popularity. According to Princeton Professor, Julian Zelizer, evaluations of presidents, whether enthusiastic or averse, automatically become dispassionate once they leave office. Evaluations are also contingent upon the actions of their successor.
President Bush has largely kept out of the public eye since 2008 pursuing his unlikely hobby of painting. The President, however, is unconcerned with rankings, ratings, and polls. Said President Bush in an interview, “History will ultimately judge the decisions that were made for Iraq and I'm just not going to be around to see the final verdict.”