I think George Herbert Walker Bush’s Presidency is vastly underrated. In my Presidential Rankings last summer, I had him ranked #13 and James K. Polk (#7) was the only other one-term President ranked higher. As I wrote in Bush 41’s Presidential Rankings entry:
I don’t know if it would be any consolation to him, but 20 years after losing his bid for a second term in the White House there is only one other one-term President that I have ranked higher than George H.W. Bush. What drove Bush out of office in 1992 was a perfect storm — fatigue after 12 years of Republicans in the White House, the charismatic opposition of perhaps the best pure politician of the second half of the 20th Century (Bill Clinton), a third-party challenge from the wealthy and interesting Ross Perot which damaged Bush far more than Clinton, and an economic recession which wasn’t entirely Bush’s fault. Bush 41’s Presidency seems to be remembered more fondly as the years pass, especially once there was a Bush 43 to compare him to. Bush was a moderate and a realist, someone who never threw bombs to earn political capital and was an able manager. When it came to foreign relations, we’ve had few Presidents who understood the intricacies of diplomacy and could build a real, solid coalition. When the Cold War ended with Bush at the helm, he was smart enough to realize that the United States would gain nothing but enmity if we took a victory lap and rubbed the nose of the Soviets in their downfall. In Panama and then Iraq, Bush restored American confidence in the U.S. military which remained shaken in the wake of Vietnam. The Persian Gulf War was a clear display of American power, but also American diplomacy at its best — building a massive coalition of diverse Allies, setting a goal, and not allowing an inch of mission creep. Bush has lived long enough to see him receive the appreciation for his leadership that he certainly deserves.