If one could arrange every U.S. presidency on a cynic's sliding scale ranging from "above average" to "stage a coup-de-etat," George W. Bush's two terms in office would merit a "mediocre" rating. Mediocre enough to earn the 43rd President of the United States a 22% approval rating upon his exit.
As a liberally-minded individual, I could do as many of my fellow liberals would at this point and highlight the man's numerous failures during his time in office. The complete failure to take seriously information that could have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for one. Or the grand misadventure that was the Iraq War. Or the complete and utter failure of leadership showcased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
These days, George Bush's image as a lump of a president has given way to the image of George Bush as a pretty swell guy. He's taken up painting and he's kept a largely quiet public profile as of late. At least that's the angle of Matt Bai's "life after the presidency" introspective:
But then a strange thing happens. A president leaves, and the partisan mob moves on to savaging (or defending) someone else's morality. And in contrast with the new president, or with the new breed of opposition trying to destroy him, the last guy never looks quite so monstrous anymore.
And one morning we wake up to find that the things we once admired in a politician, even one whose policies we didn't like, are still what make him essentially human and worth our respect. Turns out George H.W. Bush is an honest man with a thoughtful view of the world. Turns out Bill Clinton was the kind of agile, pragmatic leader with whom conservatives could actually find some common ground.
And what do you know: George W. Bush really does care deeply about the men and women he sent to war, and he really did want to do good for the country. And as contemptuous of government and generally arrogant as he could be, he seems almost moderate next to the tea party crowd that's turned everything in Congress upside down.
This isn't Americans revising history. It's Americans dispensing, finally, with the cartoon version of it. It's the country getting some perspective.
Granted it's hard to get a good read on a person when you're bombarded with countless different perspectives of who that person is and what he's done, especially when you don't know that person intimately. All you're left with is deeds, actions and a public persona that sets the tone for the entire nation to follow. With that said, Bush's deeds, actions and public persona all pointed to a man governed by an overwhelming sense of mediocrity and confusion - something that's never reflected well on the nation.
George W. Bush might be a guy you'd wouldn't mind knocking back a few beers with on a slow Thursday night, but he's still a terrible president. That's something that no amount of PR whitewashing can ever clean up.