The Legacy George Bush Will Leave

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For as long as he's been asked about it, George Bush has publically professed to not care much about his legacy.

"I'm reading about George Washington, still," President Bush said in 2006. "My attitude is, if they're still analyzing number one, 43 ought not to worry about it."

And why would he want to, given the long list of targets he's presented to his critics, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

  • The tragically weak response to Katrina, which will always overshadow the administration getting it right - like the last few days with Gustav.
  • No Child Left Behind, the president's education initiative that even some supporters concede is a failure.
  • An economy in shambles.

    "He's in the bottom 10 to five presidents in the history of the United States," James Thurber, an American University historian, said.

    But the president could take heart that none of those will be his defining issues.

    "I think the assessment of President Bush begins not with Inauguration Day, but with 9/11, and then it goes to Iraq," said Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for Ronald Reagan.

    And there, even Democratic critics like Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, say the success of the surge in Iraq will help the President's legacy.

    "He went to war in a deliberately cavalier way," O'Hanlon said. "But let's also be fair. Iraq now seems to be a quasi-functioning Democracy without weapons of mass destruction, without genocides against citizens or attacks against its neighbors. So to some extent, we gotta give our president his due."

    Still, presidential legacies are by their very nature an exercises in comparison. If you want to understand the signature of this two-term Republican president, compare it to the last one.

    "In 1988 with Reagan in the mid-50s in popularity, everybody was clamoring for a third term with Ronald Reagan. And now the only people who are talking about a third term for President Bush are the Democrats," said Duberstein.

    It seems indisputable that George Bush will address the convention, greatly diminished from his previous appearances. If the first draft of history is written by reporters, the historians, like James Thurber, are about to get their turn.

    "Well all presidents think that history will change perceptions of their activities," Thurber said. "I think history will be unkind to this man."

    And it would seem they won't offer the president much comfort.

    • Jim Axelrod
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      Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.