Monday, January 12, 2009
“They are in fact going to be doing chin-ups on the bottom tier of presidents in modern history" -- Cal Jillson, SMU professor
George W. Bush came to office in effect seeking to be the anti-Bush — the opposite of his father. He would use his political capital. He would win over conservatives. And he would have a happier political ending. But in the end his presidency in some ways parallels his dad’s: Both Bushes saw extreme highs in public opinion. The first President Bush won accolades for his handling of the Gulf War in 1990, forcing Iraq out of Kuwait. The second President Bush calmed a frightened nation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, taking up a bullhorn to promise that the world would soon hear America.
And both saw their presidencies swamped by a sea of public dismay. The elder Bush was castigated for being out of touch as the economy foundered and he seemed unable to relate. The younger Bush was pilloried for his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later he was criticized for an ideological rigidity that delayed early, forceful intervention as the economy careened into a ditch far deeper than his father’s.
As George W. Bush prepares to return to Texas, historians will be judging his legacy in the context of his father’s single term as president.
“The likelihood is that the father will be looked upon as a steadier hand and better prepared for the job,” said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas who specializes in the presidency.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, calls the senior Bush “dramatically more accomplished” in both foreign and domestic policy than his son. Still, he said, “They are in fact going to be doing chin-ups on the bottom tier of presidents in modern history.”