Longtime aides and loyalists of George W. Bush predict history will judge the outgoing two-term president more favorably than a job approval rating that is the lowest in the history of the office.
Just 18 percent of the respondents to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in December said they would miss Bush when he hands over the keys to the White House to President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20.
But aides and close advisers remain loyal to the president, saying time will be on his side. They point to the Bush administration’s success in protecting the nation after the devastating attacks of 9/11 and preventing additional acts of terrorism in the U.S.
"History will show that President Bush was successful in protecting the homeland," Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao told USA Today. "It's a reflection of President Bush's determination and courage that he's willing to bear the cost to ensure that our country remains safe."
Chao is the only Cabinet member to serve all eight years under Bush.
Other long-serving members of the Bush team weighed in on the president’s standing in the annals of history, including Education Secretary Margaret Spelling, who’s been with Bush since his early days as governor of Texas.
“You never get credit for things that didn't happen," Spellings said. "Nobody says, 'Thank goodness no planes have crashed into any buildings lately.'"
Treasury Department chief of staff Jim Wilkinson, who was an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve until recently, said Bush did the right thing when he decided to send military troops to Iraq. As a former member of the National Security Council, the State Department, and the U.S. Central Command, Wilkinson noted that tough times beset the Bush administration, including the fall of 2003 when the war in Iraq wasn’t going very well and the debacle that was Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"I think [Bush] did exactly the right thing,” Wilkinson said. “But we weren't prepared as a nation for what war is."
Wilkinson harbors particular disdain toward former colleagues who have spoken against the president's decisions, notably former White House press secretary Scott McClellan and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who put their own spin on things at the expense of the administration in order to sell tell-all books.
White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten says the nature of the office generates a high degree of burnout.
"These jobs are under any circumstances a privilege, but always hard, and hard on families,” Bolten, who was Bush’s policy director during his 2000 presidential campaign, told USA Today.
“This president has engendered a particular loyalty from his staff because of the kind of leader he is, but also because of the kind of person he is,” Bolten said.
Washington Post writer Charles Krauthammer puts Bush’s place in history in perspective by saying Bush is much like President Harry Truman, who developed the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the NSA during his tenure.
Krauthammer notes that Bush, like Truman, “expanded the powers of the presidency, established a new doctrine for active intervention abroad, and ultimately engaged in a war” (Bush in Iraq and Truman in Korea) that at the time proved highly unpopular.
Like Bush, Truman left office “disparaged and highly out of favor,” Krauthammer notes, but “history has revised that verdict. I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration.”
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