Obama era makes Clinton, Bush look better 

Through the sentimental gauze of hindsight, Americans are re-evaluating a couple of recent exes.

A new poll from Gallup finds former President Clinton enjoying a 61 percent favorable rating -- well ahead of President Obama's 52 percent.

Former President George W. Bush has a 45 percent favorability rating -- but that's 10 percentage points higher than last year.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," said George C. Edwards III, a political scientist and presidential expert at Texas A&M University.

Several factors play into the new dynamic, notably the economy. People felt richer during the Clinton administration -- their 401(k)s were fat, the tech boom was on, the federal government had a budget surplus.

"Obama has all these bad things associated with him, there's an immediacy to it," Edwards said. "With Clinton, we can look back and say times were good, and we forget about the other irritations."

Gallup pollsters noted this is the first time Clinton's favorable ratings exceed Obama's. In August 2008, Clinton was rated favorably by 52 percent.

The pollsters also noted, but did not directly attribute Clinton's improving image to, his wife Hillary Clinton's role as secretary of state. A separate poll found Hillary Clinton's favorability equal to her husband's, at 61 percent.

"The Clinton scandal stuff -- the rough edges of that get worn off after time," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.

The numbers also underscore why the Obama administration is sending former President Clinton out to campaign in key swing states for the midterms. Despite their political entanglements, the two leaders are at best a little distant, personally.

The polling question also asks about favorability or unfavorability -- not presidential job approval. It's an important distinction, particularly for Bush -- who tended to be more well-liked than his policies.

It also helps Bush that since he left office, he's mostly been hunkered down in Dallas writing his memoirs, which come out in November.

The widely perceived success of Bush's Iraq troop surge also could be helping shape a reconsideration of his presidency, particularly since Obama chose to continue the policy in his own presidency.

"It's not as if Bush's own party has spent the last two years coming to his defense," Hess said. "Quite the opposite."

Partisan considerations factor more into Obama and Bush favorability than Clinton's. Clinton was rated favorably by 30 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents -- plus 89 percent of Democrats.

Obama's numbers were slightly more polarized, with 17 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of independents and 86 percent of Democrats rating him favorably.

Those numbers were similar to those of Bush, who was rated favorably by 85 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of independents and 22 percent of Democrats.

"The numbers bear out -- under Clinton we had peace and prosperity, under Bush we had war and recession," Edwards said. "Under Obama, we are struggling."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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Julie Mason

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