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“President Bush’s trail of failure has changed our lives forever and guaranteed his lasting ubiquity. His material legacy is clear: We are a poorer and less secure nation for having elected him as our president,” said Oliver Stone, director of the film “W.,” a Hollywood version of Mr. Bush’s adult life.

“The candidate once described as the nation’s first ‘CEO president’ has created the largest budget deficits in history,” Mr. Stone said. “Even more significant and troubling, I believe, is his legacy of immorality. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. By electing this man to two terms, we have fundamentally compromised our principles as Americans.”

It’s not all collateral damage, some say.

“There’s no question that history must reckon with George W. Bush. He has been the most consequential president since Ronald Reagan. Think about it. Giant tax cuts, major changes in health care and strategic policy, and in the organization of defense, intelligence, education,” said ABC News correspondent Terry Moran.

“We’re looking at a consequential president. Some would say a catastrophically consequential president, and some would say he has been judged too harshly. We won’t know what the strategic impact of the war will be. But the world changes, and the Middle East is unquestionably a different place,” Mr. Moran said.

Another president had advice for Mr. Bush on the rigors of office.

“Don’t worry about it,” former President George H.W. Bush wrote a decade ago in a note to his namesake, George, and another son, Jeb.

“Chart your own course, not just on issues but on defining yourselves,” the senior Mr. Bush wrote to his sons.

Unfriendly press coverage of the 43rd presidency persisted, often driven by a long-standing liberal bias. Mr. Bush watched civility and respect toward his office erode, almost from the beginning.

“When the Republicans won the House and Senate in 1994, the anchormen broke out into a postelection chorus of how President Clinton deserved more credit than he was receiving from voters,” said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, a conservative media-watchdog group.

“President Bush will surely gain a greater place in history than the dungeon the media have placed him in. But for the last several years, there’s been almost nowhere a corner in the media, right or left, to say kind words about Bush’s legacy,” Mr. Graham said.

Protocols are few in legacy building, however.

“Legacy is a very mushy topic. It’s not like we get out a book and neatly look up what somebody’s legacy is, and there is no typical trajectory or rational calculus involved. People are still arguing over how Jefferson and Lincoln fared in history,” said George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M; University.

“It all has to do with consequences down the road. Harry Truman was very unpopular at the end of his term, and now he’s revered as the man who put the infrastructure in place that won the Cold War,” Mr. Edwards said. “FDR was beloved for dealing with a crisis. Lincoln and Washington rose to their important occasions. Clinton would lament he had no big crisis to deal with.”

However, an era bereft of calm and plenty can be cruel on the White House.

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