Where Mr. Bush and I differed was in how to treat those who directed political abuse his way. For example, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid would phone the White House after he had insulted the president—such as in 2005, when he called Mr. Bush “a liar” and “a loser.” He said he didn’t know that his speechwriters had slipped “loser” into his remarks until he delivered them, so he wanted to apologize for using that word (but not for calling the president a “liar”). Mr. Bush didn’t take umbrage. I did. The president felt he had better things to do, starting with handling threats foreign and domestic.

So Mr. Bush pressed forward on issues from reforming entitlements and the tax code, improving education, reining in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before they imploded, fixing immigration, strengthening the role of faith-based institutions, modernizing the military, and overhauling our counterterrorism systems. He sometimes made progress and sometimes was stalled.

But even where he failed, I am confident that solutions he offered—on matters from reforming immigration to injecting choice and competition into entitlement programs—will eventually be embraced by policy makers because they are so sensible.

Mr. Bush ran in 2000 promising to restore honor and dignity to the presidency. He took seriously the example of John Adams, whose words to his wife Abigail are etched over the fireplace in the State Dining Room in the White House: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessing on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof!”