A birthday tribute to Bush 41

Mark Updegrove is Director of the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. But his commentary is not about our 36th President - rather, a birthday tribute to our 41st:

The winter years have been warm for George Herbert Walker Bush, who turns 87 today.

A vascular disorder has compromised his mobility, relegating him to a motorized scooter, and bringing an end to his skydiving days. But Bush has lived long enough to see a new appreciation of his one-term presidency.

In January, he reunited the top players of his administration to recognize the 20th anniversary of the Gulf War, as the media noted the focus and precision with which the war was planned and executed.

In February, President Obama awarded Bush the Medal of Freedom. Then in March, three former Presidents, including the 41st President's son, George W., paid tribute to him at a Kennedy Center gala.

But what may have been even more satisfying for Bush was a Newsweek article that appeared that same month. Entitled "A Wimp He Wasn't," the piece repudiated its own 1987 cover story on Bush with its infamous headline, "Fighting the Wimp Factor," offering "a truer view" of Bush that has emerged with the passage of time.

That's often how it is with our former Presidents. As we see the forest for the trees - and as passions we held so deeply recede - a truer view comes to light.

It was that way, for instance, with Harry Truman, who left the presidency with an anemic approval rating of 32%. Today he's considered one of our "near great" presidents.

Bush, lambasted for a lack of domestic vision and a broken pledge not to raise taxes - remember "Read my lips"? - was driven out of the White House by Bill Clinton.

Now we're beginning to revalue, among other things, the quiet diplomacy President Bush summoned to ensure that the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe didn't slip into chaos after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When he campaigned for the presidency more than 20 years ago, Bush promised us a kinder, gentler nation.

Now, history seems to be extending him a kinder, gentler verdict. Not a bad birthday present.