President Bush praised Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt at length Friday for the jobs they did as president and had kind words about other occupants of the Oval Office as well.
"Everybody looks better over time," Bush said during a question-and-answer session with reporters from around the country. "Time is generous to people."Bush was complimentary to several of his predecessors, Democrats and Republicans alike. But it was to Reagan, Eisenhower and Roosevelt that the bulk of Bush's praise was directed.
"I learned a lot from Ronald Reagan," Bush said. "One thing I learned from him, I never once in eight years, no matter how difficult the problem, heard him appeal to me for understanding about the `toughest, loneliest job in the world.' . . .
"And when Reagan left the office, you never heard that the presidency is too big for one man," Bush added. "You never heard it."
Bush said he also had great respect for Eisenhower.
"He was a man, I'm old enough to remember - was our hero - freed the world from imperialism and Nazism. And he brought to the presidency a certain stability.
"Others may have had more flair," the president said. But he added that Eisenhower "was a fair-minded person, a strong leader and had the respect of people, and I think he was given credit for being a compassionate person.".
Bush, somewhat jokingly, said that Roosevelt had come "out of the same elitist background that I do.
"And he has the same commitment to the environment that I do. He was a man of some action. He was a person that understood government, did not mind getting his hands dirty. . . . He was an activist."
Bush said that, "while I'm no student of history," living and working in the White House makes him think considerably of those who have gone before - and to form new opinions of them.
"Herbert Hoover looks better today than he did 40 years ago, doesn't he?" the president asked a reporter.
"Time is generous to people," the president added.
"I remember the hue and cry around Harry Truman from guys like me, Republicans."
But he said he now feels that Truman "said what he thought and had respect for people. And I respect him for being a fighter. They had him written off in '48. I bet 10 bucks against him and lost."
"And so I respect a guy that fights back, and Truman did that."
He had nice things to say, too, about Lyndon Johnson.
Bush said that he had had "a lot of differences" with Johnson but that Johnson had been kind to freshmen congressmen when he was the Senate's Democratic leader.
Bush noted that Johnson was more successful than John F. Kennedy in getting legislation through Congress.
Johnson "got all caught up in Vietnam. But in his legislative agenda, he got things through that Kennedy couldn't."
Bush told the reporters that in "my office up there next to the Lincoln bedroom" is "one of the hand-written copies of one of the freedom doctrines that will live forever - the Emancipation Proclamation.
"So I think all of us, all Americans, would put Lincoln somewhere on that list" of laudable presidents, Bush said.
"You can't live here," he said, "without becoming more of a student of history. You learn (presidents') redeeming features. Everybody looks better over time."