George H.W. Bush at one point enjoyed the highest presidential approval rating ever recorded in a major national poll. Just 18 months later, his ratings were at a dismal low, and he went on to lose his re-election bid with the lowest percentage of the vote for an incumbent since William Howard Taft.
Bush's approval rating in a Gallup poll conducted from February into March 1991, shortly after Iraq's military forces were ousted from Kuwait, stood at 89 percent.
A Gallup poll conducted from July into August 1992, months before his re-election bid, showed Bush's approval rating at just 29 percent.
But by the time he left office in January 1993, his rating was back up to 56 percent. And polls of historians over the years show their assessment of his presidency generally improving.
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A Siena College survey of historians in 1994 ranked Bush at No. 31 among all presidents, but he has been ranked in the 20s in most polls since then, and hit No. 18 in a C-SPAN survey in 2009.
His average position in 12 polls is No. 22.
"As the former president has aged, public sentiment about his time in office has softened significantly," Doug Mataconis, a senior editor at the Outside the Beltway website, writes in an article headlined "Is George H.W. Bush America's Greatest Living President?"
Bush had already served as vice president under Ronald Reagan, CIA director, congressman, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations when he trounced Democrat Michael Dukakis by a margin of 426 electoral votes to 111 in the 1988 presidential election.
The following year, President Bush used U.S. military forces to remove Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power in an almost bloodless campaign.
Then in August 1990, Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and seized control, threatening U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Bush vowed that the aggression "would not stand," and assembled an international coalition to oppose Hussein.
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A bombing campaign against Iraq was launched in January 1991, and a ground assault began on Feb. 24 that defeated the Iraqi military in just 100 hours.
Bush chose to end the military campaign rather than pursue regime change in the Arab nation.
"His decision not to remove Hussein from power was heavily criticized at the time, and for years after, but today, as the violence continues in post-invasion Iraq, many now laud Bush's prudence and foresight," Matthew Dickinson, a professor of Political Science at Middlebury College in Vermont, writes in an article headlined "Is George H.W. Bush the Best President Not to Win Re-election?"
Bush presided during the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ending of apartheid in South Africa.
But by 1992, the economy was in recession and unemployment stood at 7.8 percent, the highest since 1984. Bush was forced to absorb much of the blame, and conservatives castigated him for breaking his "no new taxes" campaign pledge.
In the 1992 presidential campaign, Bush had to first turn back a challenge for the GOP nomination from Pat Buchanan, then square off in the general election against Democrat Bill Clinton and third-party candidate Ross Perot. Clinton racked up 370 electoral votes to Bush's 168, and the incumbent was denied a second term.
"As with all modern presidents, he was held accountable for the state of the economy although he lacked many tools to influence it," Dickinson observed.
And Mataconis cites an article that "makes a good case for the position that George H.W. Bush was a far better president than he's generally given credit for, and that history is likely to have a far more sympathetic view of his time in office than we've seen in the political arena in the 21 years since he left office."
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