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Should You Still Despise George W. Bush?

April 23, 2013

Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be?

Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush? If you're like me, your contempt for him isn't what it once was. Back in the day, I took a back seat to no one when it came to displeasure with him. But I'll admit that in the four years since he left office, my own feelings toward him have softened. Not that I now think he was anything other than a terrible president, but I'm not actively mad at him anymore. My rational judgment hasn't changed, but my more emotional feelings have dissipated somewhat.

That's partly because of the rise of the Tea Party and its takeover of the GOP, which made Bush look like a moderate by comparison with the lunatics who are now exerting so much influence over his party. But more than that, I think, is the fact that he's just not in our faces every day. If you were a liberal in the 2000s, Bush was pissing you off all the time. But give the guy some credit: he hasn't initiated a disastrous war or bankrupted the government in years!

I suspect if you asked conservatives about Bill Clinton, a few might admit to the same evolution. When Bubba was president, their hatred of him burned with the fire of a thousand suns. But now? There are so many other things to get mad about, and if Clinton is spending his time raising money to buy mosquito nets to stop malaria, well there's nothing wrong with that. And if Bush is spending his days painting pictures of dogs, it's hard to get worked up about it.

There will no doubt now be a campaign to resuscitate Bush's image; National Journal's Ron Fournier does his part with a column noting that Bush has been known to write a thank-you note, and is also very punctual. Nobody could argue he did nothing good; for instance, he put resources toward addressing the AIDS crisis in Africa, knowing that there was little domestic benefit to be had. And from what one can tell, in person Bush was usually a nice guy. But we shouldn't let the mists of time make us forget all the awful things he did, too. Presidents have to be judged by their actions and the effects those actions have on the country and the world. Bush's eight years in office were a string of disasters, and not little ones either. His disasters were grand and far-reaching, from the hundreds of thousands who died in Iraq to the squandering of trillions of dollars to the abandonment of New Orleans during Katrina. A few years later those things may no longer make us boil with rage. But we shouldn't forget them.

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