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TODAY   |  April 25, 2013

David Gregory: ‘Debate still rages’ over Bush legacy

The opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the Southern Methodist University Campus is prompting reflection on the Bush legacy, his role in our economic slide to his administration’s actions following 9/11. NBC’s David Gregory reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> david gregory is joining us here at smu, he was the chief white house correspondent during president bush 's time in office. he's now moderator of "meet the press."

>> you know president bush , he doesn't like to engage in legacy talks in his years in the white house . even as he stayed out of the spotlight, i think he and his advisers realized the debate over the meaning of the years in office still rages.

>> reporter: as he left washington four years ago, the public sat in harsh judgment of george w. bush . with roughly 2/3 of the country disapproving of his job performance. the scars ran deep over multiple wars, the terror debate, and collapsed economy.

>> you may not have agreed with some of the tough decisions i've made, but i hope you can agree that i was willing to make the tough decisions.

>> reporter: today as his presidential library opens, visitors are left to grapple with his record. from tax cuts to his role in our economic slide. mr. bush has made up ground in the public's mind and his record is viewed more charitably.

>> once he's out of politics, americans begin to look at him as a figure in history.

>> reporter: on immigration, his party has moved back his way. many of mr. bush's post-9/11 terror policies have been continued or accelerated under president obama . and the bush freedom agenda is viewed as if not a cause, at least a pre-cursor to the arab awakening roiling the middle east . judgment has not softened, however, over iraq. a war of choice or necessity is the question that still lingers. the faulty intelligence, the failure to find wmd were the backdrop to criticism that the president and his team underestimated the challenges all along.

>> the united states and our allies have prevailed.

>> reporter: and grew stubborn in the face of mounting setbacks.

>> i hear the voices and i read the front page and i know the speculation. but i'm the decider.

>> reporter: what grew into a reputation for incompetence, stained the administration and the gop brand after hurricane katrina .

>> i think it reinforced damage that was taking place.

>> i can hear you. the rest of the world hears you.

>> reporter: after 9/11, the country was not attacked again while he was in office and as the boston bombings remind americans of the terror threats, historians say mr. bush's wartime presidency will likely be viewed more favorably.

>> the perfect example for george w. bush is his father george herbert walker bush who looks far better 20 years after leaving office.

>> reporter: as time passes and passions cool, mr. bush has grown more popular. he's a grandfather now, he paints and he has stayed out of the spotlight. he's told interviewers he's comfortable with both his life and legacy.