The answer is neither.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush have the exact same job approval rating: 47 percent.
Who would have guessed?
In Mr. Bush’s case, that’s the highest approval rating for the former president since December 2005. Considering that it was just 33 percent in January 2009, Mr. Bush’s resurgence is stunning. Like former President Clinton, Mr. Bush has earned the title of “comeback kid.”
And he did come back into the spotlight last week for the unveiling of his presidential library in Dallas. That’s what former presidents in the modern era do.
These facilities are valuable repositories of information for students of history and for citizens who want to learn more about the men who served in the White House. Most are popular tourist attractions. The Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., attracted more than 300,000 visitors last year.
The Bush library is the 13th presidential library. But its opening alone doesn’t explain Mr. Bush’s jump in the polls. It’s more complicated than that.
Part of the reason is Mr. Obama’s performance. During much of his first term, Mr. Obama blamed his Republican predecessor for nearly everything except faulty teleprompters. The sagging economy? It’s Bush’s fault. The budget deficit? Bush again. Rising unemployment? Don’t blame me, blame Mr. B.
These were magic words that removed barriers, like “open sesame.” And reciting them made some sense.
Mr. Obama captured the White House because the majority of Americans wanted change. The young Democratic senator from Illinois clearly was the un-Bush. He could legitimately say that some things weren’t his fault.
But when the buck stopped on his desk, he didn’t stop the Bush-blaming. Even today, the president is quick to fault others for almost every failing in Washington (just substitute “Republicans” for Mr. Bush). At the same time, he absolves the Democrats who control most of the political machinery (the White House and the Senate) and overlooks his own leadership shortcomings.
Most Americans were willing to cut him a break early on. But not now. So his fortunes have sagged into his second term.
Peggy Noonan, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, suggested last week that America is suffering from “Obama fatigue.” That seems an apt diagnosis.
Conversely, Mr. Bush is a man on the rise. In many ways, he’s the un-Obama. Since leaving office, Mr. Bush hasn’t pointed any fingers or acted like an arrogant professor enlightening the great unwashed. He’s been modest. Unassuming.
And funny. As Ms. Noonan wrote last week, when people expressed surprise that Mr. Bush could paint, he responded that “some people are surprised I can even read.”
Like all presidents, Mr. Bush had flaws and made mistakes. But he’s right when he says history will be the final judge of his presidency. He also seemed to understand that America was split in half politically, so he approached policy-making that way. And now, almost half of Americans have positive thoughts about him.
Yes, polls can be fickle. But Mr. Bush’s popularity jump — especially among those who identify themselves as Democrats — should hearten Republicans. It also should encourage Mr. Obama and the Democrats to get down to business.