Tomorrow, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will be dedicated at Southern Methodist University in Texas. It's a good time to look back on the performance of the 43rd president, who has been almost entirely missing from the public stage these past four years.
It's widely assumed that Bush is generally despised by the public. The perceptive American Interest blogger Walter Russell Mead stirred the ire of some former Bush aides when he recommended that Republicans avoid any defense of his record and move on to new issues.
But perhaps Bush's name is not mud any more. The Washington Post/ABC poll asked respondents to rate Bush's performance for the first time since December 2008, when only 33 percent rated it positively and 66 percent rated it negatively.
What the pollster found is that today 47 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove of Bush's performance. That approval number is precisely the same as Barack Obama's in the most recent Post/ABC poll.
Clearly many Americans have been reconsidering their verdict on George W. Bush. Many have come to think better of him than they did in the last four months of his tenure, when we were facing a financial crisis and sharp economic downturn.
Barack Obama will be at the Bush Center dedication and will presumably refrain from his usual carping about his predecessor, adopting for the moment the protocol followed by every other president in the last six decades.
The three other living former presidents will also be there -- Bill Clinton, who has enjoyed high ratings ever since leaving office, and Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, who were defeated for re-election.
Their presence will be a reminder that with the passage of time we can appreciate presidents' genuine achievements and glide over their deficiencies and mistakes.
Republicans can appreciate that Carter provided leadership in transportation deregulation, which has strengthened our economy ever since, and brokered a peace between Egypt and Israel that even the current Muslim Brotherhood government has refrained from renouncing.
Democrats can appreciate that George Bush 41 provided deft guidance at the end of the Cold War, triumphed in the Gulf War and pressed successfully for the Americans With Disabilities Act.
It's an interesting coincidence that both these pairs of presidents were born in the same year -- Carter and Bush 41 in 1924, Clinton and Bush 43 in 1946, generally considered the first year of the postwar baby boom.
These two baby boom presidents illustrate how much individual character can shape presidential performance.
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