Not really, although a Washington Post-ABC poll finds 47 percent of those surveyed rate his job performance favorably. Tellingly, he doesn’t get such high marks for his performance with respect to the economy (43 percent favorable) or invading Iraq (40 percent approve). Which raises the question of what else, exactly, Bush is getting graded on. Despite the framing of the question as job approval, I suspect what comes through here is some nebulous sense that he was a nice guy—maybe a bit like Jimmy Carter. Americans aren’t always terribly attentive to what presidents are doing even while they’re in office. Once they’re out, the public’s view is not likely to be based on a more detailed policy analysis.
There is the possibility that events of the last five years have made Bush’s star shine a little brighter, relatively speaking. In Bush’s last year in office his party’s reputation was likened by retiring Rep. Tom Davis to “dog food” that ought to be taken off the shelf. Today it’s still on the shelf and isn’t any fresher after being pitched by salesmen like John McCain and Mitt Romney. Republicans have reason to be a little wistful for the Bush years. And there’s a feeling among centrists that whatever his mistakes, the party Bush led wasn’t as nasty as it has since become. Even liberals may find themselves conceding strange new respect to the man from Crawford—after all, the Democrat presently in office has in some ways governed more like his predecessor than like the president he promised on the campaign trail to become. The continuity between Dubya’s second term and Obama’s administration so far may help the Republican’s reputation more than it hurts the Democrat’s, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
But again, most of it, I suspect, is simply the unwillingness of the public to stay angry at former leaders. Forgiveness is an admirable quality—though forgetfulness certainly isn’t.