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Topics: Barack Obama

As Obama slips, history looks more kindly on George W. Bush

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Noemie Emery,Barack Obama,George W. Bush,Analysis

Like Harry S. Truman before him, the 43rd president is beginning to recover a position of qualified esteem with the American people

A rain of abuse poured forth on the author of the war in Iraq on its 10th anniversary, and most of it from his own side.

Pundits fretted about how to purge his dark shadow. He was the mad aunt in the attic, the next Herbert Hoover...

Pundits fretted about how to purge his dark shadow. He was the mad aunt in the attic, the next Herbert Hoover, the blot that had to be scourged from the party's escutcheon before it could start to rebound.

On three days in April, Walter Russell Mead called Bush the huge rotting fish in the GOP parlor, whose odiferous legacy hung like a stench over his party, and would do so for ages to come.

Until it denounced him, the GOP couldn't begin to gain traction. Most of the people, Mead said, saw Bush as a failure, "and that isn't going to change any time soon." But it was changing even as Mead wrote those words.

On June 6, Gallup published a poll that showed job approval for Bush's eight years in office at 49-46, three points higher than the then-current approval numbers for his successor, and his first poll above water since 2005.

This wasn't a fluke, nor did it come quickly: A 2010 CNN poll put Bush in a statistical tie with Obama, as did others taken in April and May this year. In his worst days, Bush put his faith in history to judge and absolve him, and history is beginning to do it. How did this happen, and why?

The case against Bush made by his critics is that he left his party under the weight of Katrina, the fiscal collapse, and the war in Iraq, which they assailed as the worst mistake ever, but all of these charges had caveats to them, which began to emerge over time.

Most of the blame for Katrina belonged to the mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana. The fiscal collapse was caused by the housing implosion, which was the result of mistakes made by Bush, Bill Clinton, both parties, and most members of Congress, that Bush tried at times to correct.

Iraq was a disaster in 2006 but Bush turned it around by July 2007 and it was stable when he left office. Most of Bush's critics ignored the decade's most prominent challenge, making certain 9/11 was not repeated. It wasn't.

Obama ran against them, then adopted to the letter all the Bush war on terror protocols and used them to capture Osama bin Laden. When your opponent adopts your ideas, you are not unsuccessful, something that people have started to note.

Critics say the Bush years have disabled hawks for the next generation, but Sen. John McCain, R-AZ -- tied to Iraq more than anyone except the president -- was leading Obama in mid-September, before the fiscal implosion.

Mead says the failure to denounce the Bush years has "paralyzed the foreign policy debate" in the Republican Party; but it hasn't stopped Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, from embracing the Bush Doctrine, starting a lively debate with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY.

"Like Bush, Harry Truman left office scorned," wrote Charles Krauthammer, but "in time ... Korea came to be seen as but one battle in a much larger Cold War that Truman had been instrumental in winning."

Bush's revival came sooner than Truman's, and can only rise as Obama keeps slipping. We know now that Bush will not be the next Hoover, in part because Obama has not been the next Franklin Roosevelt.

If Bush will be the next Truman now seems more likely, but also remains to be seen. ?

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Noemie Emery

Columnist
The Washington Examiner