It seems few Americans are sad to see Dubya go.
President George W. Bush’s approval rating hovers at 34 percent — the lowest rate since Richard Nixon’s presidency. Experts, however, warn against “misunderestimating” how he’ll be remembered.
“History may cut him some slack,” said political analyst Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University’s Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy. “Bush faced completely different challenges than other presidents.”
In his farewell address, Bush said he “acted with the best interests of our country in mind,” and few experts dispute this. “He was a very idealistic guy who took up big issues, and sometimes the ideas were too big for him,” said Carl Cannon, co-author of “Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy,” “but his heart was in the right place.”
Here’s a look at eight years of events that may shape the Bush legacy, for better or worse:
The Florida recount
In 2000, the former Texas governor squeaked past Democratic rival Al Gore, winning Florida and the presidency in a controversial blur of butterfly ballots.No Child Left Behind
Bush’s ambitious effort to hold schools accountable earned bipartisan nods. “He got Republicans in the game on it,” Cannon said. “Education became a federal issue, not just a state and local issue.”
After an unprecedented terror attack in 2001, Bush urged confidence in the country’s security and briefly revitalized its economy. “He finds his footing as a wartime president,” Cannon said, “then he rallies the country in a way it needs to be rallied.”
The Patriot Act
The act challenged civil liberties and allegedly paved the way for warrantless wiretapping. Vice President Dick Cheney said it has helped to keep the U.S. safe, and “even Bush’s worst detractors will tell you that it’s possible that statement is true,” said Cannon, the Washington bureau chief for Reader’s Digest.
The war in Iraq
The U.S. invades Iraq in 2003 and overthrows dictator Saddam Hussein, but the failure to find WMDs sets off a deep unpopularity for the war. Further hurting Bush’s case: More than 4,200 U.S. soldiers have died and the occupation continues.
FEMA’s inadequate response to the 2005 storm is among the factors blamed in 1,800-plus deaths in New Orleans and beyond. “We essentially lost a major United States city in the modern era,” said political analyst and “Party Crashing” author Keli Goff.
The faltering economy
The Bush administration’s tax cuts and unbridled spending likely lent a hand to the $1.2 trillion federal deficit. “His policies were more favorable to upper-income level Americans than the middle class,” Panagopoulos said. “He has increased the income inequality in this country.”