Posted by Peter Lawler
His administration is much more popular now than it was during the last year of his presidency. Question for discussion: Is that because he was a better or worse president than his son?
Peter wrote: His administration is much more popular now than it was during the last year of his presidency. Question for discussion: Is that because he was a better or worse president than his son?
George H.W. Bush benefits from two things: one, the passage of time; and two, a gentle and quiet existence since leaving office.
I suspect -- I do not know for certain -- that Americans look back on the era from roughly 1988 to 1996 with fond remembrance. Times were relatively good. The Cold War had ended. The planet was relatively quiet. From 1996 on things get murky -- Clinton's disgrace in office, the slow decline of the Republicans, the "Y2K" fear, the stock market bubble burst of 2000, and finally 9/11. The turmoil in the world since 2001 only aggravates the sense of anxiety most feel.
Whether the present Bush is to blame or not, the simple fact is the anxiety most feel translates to a negative view of the present and a positive view of the recent past. Bush Sr. benefits. He's done nothing to make people think twice about viewing him in that light.
People don't know enough to judge presidents intelligently, particularly in retrospect.
As for Bush Senior's relative popularity, there's no mystery to it. Part of it is, indeed, his classy personality bother as president and thereafter. But classy personality is not evidence of leadership and often, as in GHWB's case, stands in the way of leadership.
Centuries ago, a Spanish functionary -- a cabinet minister or governor general, or some such -- made this cynical observation: To be considered a success in office, do little. And do it slowly.
And yes, the easy times made the man look good. I give credit for the Gulf War, and for letting communism collapse (although what else would a U.S. president do?) But Bush senior is not popular because of the Gulf War, his one, badly compromised, achievement.
Do you suppose that in another 14 years someone will be writing "George W. Bush benefits from two things: one, the passage of time; and two, a gentle and quiet existence since leaving office."? Maybe it depends how rough times are then as compared to now.
That GWHB was good at many things in government did not mean that he would be good at all things. Nice man, lousy politician: if he had not been succeeding Reagan would he have been president? I don't think so. His leadership was marred by the lack of "the vision thing" and if his political instincts had been better, that might not have mattered as he could have grasped the national vision and reflected that back at us.
David's Spaniard is right if speaking of a bureaucrat, but not of a statesman.
My answer really didn't try to address GWHB's skills as a leader or politician. Rather, it was more to the question of "Why is he popular now?" My answer was because people have allowed his tenure to fade into the soft, fuzzy background. And that he's done nothing in his retirement to make people reassess that fuzzy memory.
David Frisk wrote: "But Bush senior is not popular because of the Gulf War, his one, badly compromised, achievement." You know, I wonder about that. At the time people said it was a tragic mistake. But do they today, looking back on it through the lens of Iraq today? I'm wondering if some are now starting to believe that we'd be in the 15th year of "Iraq on the Brink" rather than the 4th year of it. I'm not suggesting anything by that statement ... I'm simply wondering if some people's view of that decision 15 years ago is now under some reappraisal.
Kate wrote: "Nice man, lousy politician: if he had not been succeeding Reagan would he have been president?" I think not. Further, I think he could have lost that election had he faced a more formidable opponent.
I have no particular affection for GWHB. I'm simply saying that to the extent he enjoys popularity today, it's for the two reasons I cited originally.
Clinton, I think, will be remembered similarly ... but only if Hillary fails to gain the White House. (If he becomes the "first husband" then all bets are off ... the dynamics then change completely.) Had Carter stuck with "Habitat" efforts he'd have been remembered as a "nice man who was president during a hard time." But he opted to open his mouth and now his legacy is tainted for it.
It strikes me that perhaps neither choice posed is really at the core of this. My general feeling, without reflecting on it too much, is that the public may be under the impression that Bush I was a descendant of Reagan, and as Reagan continues to grow in many minds, perhaps Bush I gains as well. I think many folks are just not aware how opposed he, and others in both admins, were to Reagan and his ideas on opposing Communism, etc. As some know, Bush I attempted to purge the Reaganites, though it took most of his 4 years to do it. Just a thought.
Ashbrook Center at Ashland University | 401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 | (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)