Bush’s signature education plan, No Child Left Behind, remains the law of the land, though the Obama administration has granted states waivers to give them flexibility in meeting performance targets. A Bush Medicare prescription drug plan, criticized for its cost, is now popular with beneficiaries, and Obama has sought to improve it by providing relief for seniors with high bills. Obama continued the unpopular bank bailouts and expanded the auto industry rescue that Bush initiated in 2008.

Bush authorized a military surge in Iraq in an effort to tame the conflict there. Obama completed the withdrawal of troops from Iraq but also authorized a military surge in Afghanistan before beginning a drawdown of troops that is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.

“The responsibilities of office drive presidents toward pragmatism,” said Joshua Bolten, a former Bush chief of staff. Where those policies are effective, he added, “the successor has good reason to adopt them.”

Obama, like Bush during his presidency, is seeking an overhaul of immigration laws that give 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally a chance to get on a path toward citizenship. Bush came up short in 2007, but Bolten believes that six years later the nation and its politicians are in a different place.