Bush: Nixon or Truman?

One hears rather often that George W. Bush has ended his presidency with record low approval ratings. Some articles I’ve read have said (apparently incorrectly) that they are the lowest ever.


The above was sent to me yesterday, and it provides an interesting comparison. Two presidents left office with approvals as low as Bush’s: Truman, who faced a struggling post-war economy and a increasingly difficult situation in the Korean War; and Nixon, who was in the middle of being impeached when he resigned.

History has been far kinder to Truman, overall, than Nixon. Indeed, I suspect that few people know that Truman ended his presidency as unpopular as Nixon and Bush. Certainly, I hadn’t realized it. It remains to be seen whether, in 50 years time, Bush will be seen as more like the former or the latter.

24 Responses to Bush: Nixon or Truman?

  1. Matt says:

    It might be instructive to line these numbers up with congressional approval ratings, which have been generally about 1/2 George Bush’s since shortly before the Democrats took over.

    God Bless,


  2. Jay Anderson says:

    Approval ratings at the time one leaves office are a poor indicator of what one’s historical legacy will be. It’s too early to make any definitive judgments about our most recent presidents, but I’ll venture a guess as to one of them.

    Bill Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings ever recorded. Yet, this time last year, he was being treated as the enemy by the very people who were most supportive of him when he was in office – African-Americans and left-leaning pundits. How many times in 2008 did we hear people lamenting that they wished Bill Clinton would just go away.

    In 50 years, what will Bill Clinton be remembered for? What were the “big” things that he accomplished for which history marks presidential greatness? The economy? I doubt it. That may help keep one’s approval numbers high, but it’s not the kind of stuff history is made of. I can’t name one other president not named Herbert Hoover or FDR who is remembered for the economy.

  3. Good point, Jay.

    I think the reason Truman is remembered as a mixed-to-good president is because it’s recognized that he strove with big problems and got a certain number of them right. Nixon isn’t remembered very positively because he didn’t have any big historic successes, and he went out in disgrace.

    In that sense, I’d say that how Bush is remembered will have a lot to do with what the historical legacy of the events he was involved with were. Primarily — if Iraq and Afghanistan somehow settle out to islands of liberal democracy in the Middle East, and that has good effects in the long run, I would imagine that Bush will be remembered well. If not, then probably he won’t be remembered much, well or badly.

  4. crankycon says:

    can’t name one other president not named Herbert Hoover or FDR who is remembered for the economy.

    In a sense I think Reagan is as well. Surely the Cold War stuff and battling the Soviets is a big part of his legacy, but a lot of people also remember the roaring 80s and tie that in with Reagan. The economy is not the first thing I think about regarding Reagan, but I would guess that’s a big component of his legacy.

  5. Jay Anderson says:

    The economic stuff during the 80s isn’t enough to mark Reagan as a “great” president. Coupled with things such as the Cold War victory, it merely “pads” his legacy.

    But even then, the economy in the 80s was a mixed bag both at the beginning of the decade and by the end of the decade, and I bet people remember the 80s as much for the movie Wall Street as they do for the role Pres. Reagan played in bringing about sustained economic growth.

    My point is that unless your name is Herbert Hoover or FDR, the economy, alone, is not enough to build a historical legacy for good or ill.

  6. Jay Anderson says:

    “Nixon isn’t remembered very positively because he didn’t have any big historic successes …”

    Well, he does get credit from historians for going to China. It’s even become a figure of speech.

  7. John Henry says:

    “My point is that unless your name is Herbert Hoover or FDR, the economy, alone, is not enough to build a historical legacy for good or ill…”

    And, potentially, Obama….

  8. Matt McDonald says:

    While FDR is remembered for ending the Great Depression, in fact, he did more to prolong it than any other factor.

    Thomas Woods a Catholic historian has studied this in detail.

    the lesson is that how presidents are remembered does not necessarily reflect reality.


  9. Jay Anderson says:

    “And, potentially, Obama….”

    I believe we’d have to have a crash of epic proportions … another Great Depression, if you will … for that to happen. It might, but short of that, presidents just aren’t remembered for economic successes or failures.

    President Obama’s place in history is already secured by virtue of being the first black president. The economy isn’t going to make or break that legacy. Regardless of what he does – barring an epic failure (and maybe even despite such), he’ll likely forever be rated by historians as among the top 10 presidents in U.S. history.

  10. bink says:

    I think Bush will likely be most remembered by his “Bush-isms” – simply put, all the silly things he’s said over the past 8 years. Cobble that together with the war in Iraq and possibly 9/11. The economy? I seriously doubt anyone will remember Bush for that…

  11. bink says:

    Additionally, you have to be a bit careful about who you are talking about when referring to how someone is going to be regarded in history – are you referring to how history buffs and historians will regard him, or how the general population will remember him?

  12. Gerard E. says:

    Ho hum. So much has happened in the War On Terror that neither GWB nor his top aides may yap about in their lifetimes. Heavy deep cover stuff involving branches of armed forces not made public. Wait about 50 years. Hear that sound of silence? No car bombs going off in U.S. downtown areas on regular basis. No hostage dramas consuming cable teevee nets- now that Official Obama Worship is declining, back to missing Caucasian women and children as their obsessives. Thank You, Mr. Bush and Company.

  13. A large part of how Bush will be remembered is how Obama does. One large attack on a continental US target by terrorists during the Obama administration and public attitudes toward Bush will change overnight. Additionally if future historians credit Bush with initiating policies that lead to the ultimate defeat of the Islamic jihadists, then his stock will rise just as Harry Truman received credit long after he left office for initiating policies which helped ultimately to win the cold war. It will also depend on whether academia continues to be largely dominated by the Left or if future historians are a more ideologically diverse bunch than the current servants of Cleo.

  14. The Truman comparison is apt. Truman was also a war criminal. See Anscomsbe, Elizabeth.

  15. Matt McDonald says:

    Morning’s Minion,

    and yet his unpopularity was in no way related to what you consider a war crime, which the vast majority still support to this day as justified. I don’t think that’s the point of this post anyway.


  16. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Truman was also a war criminal.”

    I think he was hero who saved millions of lives including one of my uncles who was scheduled to participate as a marine in the invasion of Japan. Of course I can understand how people can have different opinions on the matter. What I can’t understand is how someone who can have so much concern about civilian casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could vote for a pro-abort like Obama. I doubt that the late Elizabeth Anscombe, who got arrested late in life in an Operation Rescue style sit-in against abortion in England, could understand that either. If Harry Truman is a war criminal for civilian deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what sort of criminal does that make our newly elected President who conducts a never-ending fight to keep the ongoing slaughter of the innocents a constitutional right?

  17. Donna V. says:

    Under Truman, the Marshall Plan was implemented and Europe, a smoking ruin of a continent in ’45, was rebuilt. Of course, that left the post-war generation of Europeans, raised in peace and prosperity, with the means and lesiure time to denounce American imperialism and capitalism. Gratitude is the most transient of human emotions.

  18. Donald,

    Given that Anscombe was probably the greatest Catholic philsopher of the 20th century, I’m sure she “understood” the issues perfectly. Anscombe had the virtue of consistency, sadly lacking among many American Catholics today– she was indeed arrested for protesting abortion, and she also had a champagne party to celebrate Humanae Vitae in 1968– but she also denounced Truman as a war criminal in the most strudent terms. By the way, she invented the term “consequentialism”, and this was picked up and condemned explicitly by John Paul many years later in Veritatis Splendour. I would hope that a Catholic blog understands that evil cannot be condoned, no matter what good might come of it.

  19. Thank you for your information Tony, all of which I was already aware of. Now, once again, if President Truman is to be considered a war criminal for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the killing of noncombatants , what sort of criminal is President Obama, who you supported in the last election, for his unwavering devotion to abortion, including the disguised infanticide which occurs in partial birth abortion?

  20. S.B. says:

    evil cannot be condoned, no matter what good might come of it.

    Neither can you condone pro-choice policies just because you might get universal health care out of the deal. Wait a minute, you do just that.

  21. John Henry says:

    I think it would be more useful to discuss the morality of Hiroshima without bringing every conversation back to tu quoque comments about the election.

  22. John Henry says:

    Although, I probably should add that the morality of Truman’s actions wasn’t really the original subject of the thread either.

  23. Donald R. McClarey says:

    John Henry, I respectfully disagree. Whenever anyone starts tossing around the term “war criminal” then I want to understand if they are consistent in the application of the term “criminal”, or if the term is simply used as a pejorative. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki are to be condemned for the taking of innocent human life, then one can only imagine the magnitude of evil in the taking of 44,000,000 innocent lives in this country since Roe, and what term should be applied to politicians who support abortion as a constitutional right.

  24. John Henry says:

    Well, does bringing up abortion help define the term ‘war criminal’? I agree that there are many suggestive analogies between war and abortion, but they are separate things. I would not classify an abortionist as a ‘war criminal’.

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