- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Each day of the Obama presidency seems to bring a new, perversely delicious irony. Last week, on the same day that Mr. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize solely for being the “anti-Bush,” former President George W. Bush got a lovely prize of his own: the growing appreciation of the American people.

Public Policy Polling released a new survey that showed that while 50 percent preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. Bush, a stunning 44 percent preferred Mr. Bush to Mr. Obama. Further, a separate poll showed public approval of former Vice President Dick Cheney moving up by 10 points to 39 percent.

Making these poll numbers even more remarkable is Mr. Obama’s own free-falling job approval: He’s routinely below 50 percent, with some polls showing him as low as 43 percent. A year ago, when Mr. Bush suffered from dismal approval ratings and hope ran high for the changing of the guard to Mr. Obama, the idea of Mr. Bush surpassing Mr. Obama in public popularity was laughable.

Distance from a former president, however, tends to make the heart grow fonder for him. Presidents Truman and Nixon left office under dark clouds of scandal and with abysmal levels of support, but with the passage of time, both have been reassessed far more positively. The same is beginning to happen for Mr. Bush, and a lot faster than it did for Truman and Nixon.

The re-evaluation of Mr. Bush is occurring for two main reasons. 1) The expectations set by Mr. Obama, his campaign, and those who supported him that he would be a kind of Magical Merlin, capable of changing human nature and the interests of nations, were always impossible. He is perceived as failing because there was never any way he could have delivered the lofty, saviorlike promises he made. He is as earth-bound as was Mr. Bush.

And 2) It’s quickly dawning on more and more people that the presidency is difficult. This obvious reality is often overlooked until a president leaves office and is replaced by a successor who appears submerged by the responsibilities. It’s “the hardest job in the world” for a reason: Every day brings a new, impossible challenge that demands immediate attention; some new, tough decision that must be made; some new, unprecedented problem that needs to be solved. The gig is no picnic, and executive experience matters. In an interview on Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” when Mr. Obama was asked about making hard decisions, he literally blurted out, “This is really hard.”

Mr. Bush’s critics never cut him any slack based on the difficulty of the job and the less-than-perfect choices before him.

Mr. Obama acts as if he’s the first president to inherit a complicated, dangerous and messy situation. From George Washington, who became the first president out of the ravages of the Revolutionary War, to Mr. Bush, who inherited a nation about to be attacked by a ruthless Islamic terrorist enemy, every president has come to office with a full plate. Mr. Obama behaves as if he’s the first one to face intractable challenges. Perhaps this is because in his narcissism, he believed he would be able to melt them away with the sheer force of his persona. He’s just now discovering that that is not going to happen.

Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that on a range of issues, Mr. Bush was right. On the war on terror, he was right about Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, military tribunals and treating it as a war and not a criminal-justice problem. Mr. Obama seems to recognize how right Mr. Bush was by embracing many of his counterterrorism policies. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he channeled Mr. Bush as he justified fighting the terrorist enemy, surging troops in Afghanistan and recognizing the need to smash evil.

On the economy, while Mr. Bush went too wild with federal spending, he cut tax rates twice, leading to 53 consecutive months of job creation and economic growth. The economic crisis that blew up at the tail end of his term has obscured that record, but more people are beginning to see that on balance, he was a decent economic steward.

Given what we’ve experienced over the past year from the new president - from apologies for America to decisions to add trillions to the deficit and debt and nationalize health care and regulate carbon dioxide and bring Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to New York for trial to failing to improve the unemployment picture - Mr. Bush is looking better and better. Was he perfect? No. Did he make mistakes? Yes, he did, just as all presidents do. But in retrospect, many who derided him are realizing that the presidency is hard, and he did the best he could - and that was pretty good.

Mr. Bush was right. Do you miss him yet? Me too.

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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