George W. Bush's Legacy: The Debate Restarts

Apr 23, 2013 | Updated Jun 23, 2013

As George W. Bush reappears in the public eye preparing for Thursday's dedication of his presidential library, the debate on his presidential performance, and legacy, has also come to the forefront once more.


In a Washington Post article last week, Stephen F. Knott lamented that George W. Bush is not getting a fair shake by those partisan, biased, fear-mongering academics, scholars, and historians who have "rushed to judgment" by declaring Bush's presidency "a failure."

In all fairness, Knott does mention another group of folks -- those partisan, biased, rush-to-judgment, regular Americans -- who also "consider Bush's presidency a failure."

Recent polls show that, although improving, a large percentage of Americans still view George Bush negatively. According to one Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday, 50 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's presidency.

But, regardless, Knott adjudges:

In their hasty, partisan-tinged assessments of Bush, far too many scholars breached their professional obligations, engaging in a form of scholarly malpractice, by failing to do what historians are trained to do before pronouncing judgment on a presidency: conduct tedious archival research, undertake oral history interviews, plow through memoirs, interview foreign leaders and wait for the release of classified information.

Washington Post readers responded in great numbers (5000+ comments) and with passion to Knott's column. While I will not classify the overall tone or thrust of the comments, I will say that they were diverse and interesting.

In a rhetorical "Is George W. Bush the victim of a bum's rush to judgment?" piece at The Moderate Voice, I stated my own opinion:

I am no academic, scholar or historian and while I have my own opinions about George Bush's presidency -- opinions that I have expressed freely as a blogger -- I would not exactly say that the numerous respected academics, scholars and historians who have witnessed eight years of actual presidential performance and who have had an additional four years to reflect on and digest that performance are guilty of "a rush to judgment."

Moderate Voice readers responded with what I consider to be thoughtful, moderate comments ranging from "his legacy goose is cooked" (well, not exactly those words) to "give it/him a few more years, like 50 to 100" -- again, not exactly in those words.

Readers also made interesting observations as to how today's thorough and instantaneous research, fact-finding, release of information and analyses may shrink the time that it takes for a society to thoroughly assess and judge a person's -- whether a politician or a CEO -- performance and character. I tend to agree with this.

However, for those who believe that history is far from settled on Bush' presidency -- and for those who think otherwise -- Anna M. Tinsley at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram presents a smorgasbord of possibilities to sink one's teeth in, depending on your viewpoint, especially regarding Bush's pièce de résistance, the Iraq War.

For starters, Tinsley offers:

More than four years after Bush left office, protesters are lining up to criticize his eight years in office, saying he began an unjust, politicized war built on the belief that Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction -- a belief officials now say were wrong.

Supporters of Bush, beloved by many in Texas and beyond, say the former president faced extraordinary situations, rose to meet challenges and made just decisions.

But historians say there's a long way to go before the ink is dry on history books that are still being written.

"War is a substantial part of his legacy," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor specializing in presidential studies at the University of Texas at Austin. "Where Afghanistan was an arguably necessary war, the decision to go into Iraq was controversial ... and in some minds oversold, if not worse.

"People who are starting to pull together the history books wonder why and if it's worth the investment," he said. "The real test is how Bush's historical reputation might be impacted. At the moment, he's taking hits on cost and necessity. Down the road, the best hope for redemption is if it's seen as altering things in a way for world peace and best world interest."

And Tinsley continues...

A must read.

Image: Courtesy White House