Washington If Harry S. Truman did it, why can't George W. Bush?
Truman came back from the political abyss - his public approval rating sank as low as 22 percent, thanks in large part to America's entry into the Korean War and his handling of labor disputes at home - to become regarded by historians as one of the nation's top 10 presidents.
Lately, some Bush administration officials and White House associates have predicted that President Bush - mired in an unpopular war in Iraq and saddled with the low Nixon-level approval ratings - will get the Truman treatment by historians after he leaves office in January 2009.
"I think when the history is written that, in fact, it will reflect credit upon this president and his administration," Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN's Larry King last month.
Will history really give Bush the Truman bounce?
Several historians doubt it, noting that no other president other than the former haberdasher from Independence, Mo., has received such a 180-degree revision to the benefit of his legacy.
"I don't think any president has had as significant a re-evaluation as Truman," said Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley. "(Dwight) Eisenhower has risen in historical evaluation quite a lot, but not to the same degree. (James) Polk was once ranked much higher than he now usually is. I suspect (Ronald) Reagan will fluctuate a good deal over time."
Bush, Brinkley said, "does not seem to me to have many achievements that would earn him a high ranking - again, unless the Iraq war turns out, unexpectedly, to be successful in the long term."
Historians tend to rank presidents as "great," "near great," "above average," "average," "below average" or "failure." George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt routinely top most surveys conducted every few years by historians and other experts.
Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt usually rank just below the top three. Truman, who produced the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-damaged Europe and the Truman doctrine to protect free peoples from falling under communism and who decided to desegregate America's military, consistently appears on most lists.
Fading in and out of the top 10 list are James Monroe, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan and John F. Kennedy.
There's almost no argument among scholars about failed presidents, with Warren G. Harding, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan firmly ensconced at the bottom of the list.
Bush currently is in the middle of the pack of presidents in recent rankings. A 2005 survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and the Federalist Society had Bush ranked 19 among America's 43 presidents, and a 2002 ranking by the Siena College's Research Institute listed him at 23rd.