History will confirm that George Herbert Walker Bush was a great president.” Maybe so, but the speaker of these words at the dedication of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service on the Texas A&M University campus was not exactly an unbiased source. Only a few moments before, he had begun his remarks by addressing the former chief executive and first lady as “Mr. President, [pause] Mother …” Acknowledging the ensuing laughter, the governor of Texas confided to the audience, “It works every time.”
But George W. Bush’s prediction of how history will treat his father may not work out as well. George Bush is one of five presidents in this century to be defeated for reelection (William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter were the others), and history so far has not been kind to the losers. The younger Bush went on to lay out a compelling enough case for the elder one—“He was a great president because, first and foremost, he was a great man. … He proved that you can enter the political arena and leave with your integrity. … He showed us that public service is worthy of our best efforts, the best years of our lives”—yet one has to look no further than the approval ratings of the current occupant of the White House to know that there is more to a successful presidency than character.
Almost five years have passed since George Bush was president, enough time and distance for the debate over his role in history to begin. And so it has: This summer economist Robert Reischauer, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office, credited the much-disparaged tax bill of 1990, agreed to by Bush despite his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge during the 1988 campaign, with helping produce the prolonged economic expansion of the Clinton years. Others have read Bush’s parachute jump last spring, at the age of 72, as an attempt to eradicate the “wimp” label that had dogged him in the latter part of his career. On November 6 the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at A&M will be dedicated. Advance copies of the first biography of Bush that covers his presidential years, Herbert S. Parmet’s George Bush: Life of a Lone Star Yankee, are already out. The likelihood that George W. Bush will be a candidate for president in 2000 will no doubt