Jonathan Bernstein: History Will Not Be Kind to George W. Bush

tags: George W. Bush, historians, presidential rankings, Jonathan Bernstein, presidential reputations



Jonathan Bernstein is a columnist for the Washington Post.

George W. Bush is not remembered with any enthusiasm currently. That’s not likely to change.

Whatever way it’s measured, he’s not doing too well. Gallup has his retrospective approval at 47 percent; that’s third-lowest in the polling era, better than only Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson (Harry Enten has more on placing post-presidential approval in context). As far as historians and other students of the presidency, it’s even worse; Bush falls in the bottom quarter of the ratings surveys in which he’s been included.

In terms of popular appeal in the short term, Bush will likely be hurt because there’s no campaign underway to improve his reputation — either by himself, as was the case with Nixon and is still the case with Jimmy Carter, or on his behalf, as with John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. We don’t really have a way of measuring the effects of those campaigns, and Nixon’s hasn’t worked, but it certainly seems likely to help to some extent. Bush’s best hope as far as popularity is probably for his brother, nephew or some other family member to become president and excel, which somehow rubs off on him. That’s not much of a hope....



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