Originally Published: October 2020
Andrew R. Graybill is a professor of history and the director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened seven years ago and anchors the southeastern corner of campus at Southern Methodist University, where I teach history. In late November 2016, I took a tour of the facility with five college friends who were visiting from the East Coast. The recent presidential election was much on our minds as we wandered through the building, contemplating various artifacts from Bush’s two terms in office. Although we were hardly fans of his presidency, one of my pals—fearful, like everyone in our group, of a Trump administration—got misty-eyed when reflecting upon Bush’s obvious love of country. After an hour or so, with a requisite stop for photos in the museum’s full-sized and perfectly appointed replica of the Oval Office, we left in glum moods.
As was the case with my friends and me, the chaos of the past few years has caused some of Bush’s detractors to revise their assessment of W and his legacy. Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, for instance, no longer regards him as the most likely modern contender for the worst president in U.S. history. Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a onetime Bush adversary, confessed to a journalist earlier this year that he often finds himself thinking, “ ‘Boy, I wish Bush were here now.’ . . . He was a patriot. I disagreed with him. But he was somebody you could talk to, joke with, had a good personality.” And many noted the heartfelt decency that Bush demonstrated during his brief but moving remarks at the recent funeral for Congressman John Lewis—who had declined to attend Bush’s inauguration in protest over the contested 2000 election. READ MORE