History and the media provide a surprise — but not unusual — makeover
By William S. Bike
The recent rehabilitation of the images of former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the media is not unusual in American history.
The media and historians often take a contrarian second look at officials years after they have left office and, since these officials no longer are in the white-hot glare of day-to-day politics, decide that the common opinion about those officials was not necessarily the correct one.
When President Dwight Eisenhower left office in 1961, the media and historians ranked him as one of the worst presidents in history, because he spent eight years being nowhere near as activist as his immediate predecessors, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. But it was not long before they changed their minds, seeing that Eisenhower’s policies created the boom of the 1950s, which is now considered America’s golden era. So now, Ike is ranked among the better presidents.
Same with President Jimmy Carter, who was considered so terrible in 1980 that he lost the election in a landslide — rare for an incumbent president. But not only has his post-presidential work helping the downtrodden with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity rehabilitated his image, but historians and media have reached a more positive view of his actual presidency, too. His warnings about the need for energy independence have proved prophetic, and his ability to have kept us out of any wars during his presidency have left people wondering why his successors couldn’t do the same.
Sometimes presidents’ reputations fluctuate. After his assassination, President John F. Kennedy was almost considered a saint. After information about his liaisons came out in the 1980s, his reputation suffered greatly. But 40 years later, after Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the personal life of a president no longer shocks. So Kennedy’s stock has risen again, particularly when the media and historians look at the class and thoughtfulness with which he handled his job — a class and thoughtfulness that many of his modern successors have not been able to match.