When he left the White House in January 2009 after two tumultuous terms, President George W. Bush -- the only man to attain the presidency by virtue of a Supreme Court ruling and only the second son of a president to also serve as president -- was nursing an approval rating around 30 percent.
Four years later, however, public opinion has turned slowly but steadily in the former president’s direction. A nationwide Fox News poll conducted earlier this week now finds registered voters evenly split in their assessments of the 43rd president -- a verdict roughly equal to the esteem in which they hold his successor, President Obama.
As Bush prepares to attend the dedication of his presidential library in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, his increasing approval generally mirrors the trend for other former presidents, but Bush's turnaround is remarkable, given how low the numbers were when he left office. At his lowest, amid the dark days of the financial collapse in October 2008, only 23 percent rated Bush positively.
Throughout President Obama’s first term -- when the incumbent relentlessly blamed his predecessor for the state of the economy and a host of national security problems -- Bush, aside from promoting his 2010 memoir and giving a small number of paid speeches, mostly remained silent. This was in keeping with the practice of his father, George H.W. Bush, of never criticizing his successor, and it may partially explain the rise in esteem for the younger Bush.
“People are perhaps beginning to appreciate that President Bush, for all his Texas swagger, is a gentleman,” Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said.
“I wish that some of my fellow scholars, particularly historians and law professors and political scientists, would do what academics are supposed to do, which is to bide their time, do the actual research before proclaiming a presidency a failure,” said Stephen Knott, a U.S. Naval War College professor and author of a book about Bush. He described the Bush legacy as "unfinished."
“It takes a long time for documents, for oral history interviews, particularly classified documents, to emerge," Knott said. "And then you get a fuller, more complete picture of a presidency.”
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said he wasn't surprised by Bush's rising approval rating.
“We pummel presidents when they’re in the White House," said Brinkley, who's 2007 book "The Great Deluge" was critical of Bush's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "We give them a hard time. Then they leave and they write a memoir that becomes an instant bestseller. Journalists ask softball questions, and then they open up a presidential library. And people forgive a lot of the mistakes and say, ‘Hey, he brought our country through some tough times.'"