Bush Portrait Unveiling Mixes Laughs, Politics at White House
Only days after former President George W. Bush backed his Republican opponent, President Barack Obama warmly welcomed the Texan back to the White House and praised his “extraordinary service” to the country.
Political irony hung over the emotional event that brought Bush and his wife, Laura, back to Washington: the unveiling of their official portraits, which will hang among those of other U.S. presidents in the Grand Foyer of the White House.
Bush, who has made no secret of his disdain for Washington since returning to Texas, entered the room to the tune of “Hail to the Chief,” a song he considered pretentious during his time in office.
“Welcome back to the house you called home for eight years,” Obama told the Bushes. After bashing Bush’s policies in his 2008 race and often since then, Obama praised his predecessor for his handling of the September 11, 2001 attacks and for his work on the financial crisis.
After Obama spoke, Bush came to the stage, looked at the portraits of himself and his wife, turned to the crowd and winked. Bush’s portrait by artist John Howard Sanden shows him in the Oval Office, wearing a gray suit and blue tie, his hand resting on an arm chair. His lips are closed with a slight smile on his face.
Mrs. Bush was portrayed wearing a midnight blue gown and standing in the White House’s Green Room, which she helped refurbish in 2007.
Portrait unveiling ceremonies are traditionally devoid of partisan rhetoric, but in an election year, politics was in the air.
Among the cheering crowd of former Bush administration officials and friends was former adviser Karl Rove, who now runs a group that is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat Obama on November 6.
Bush played on the irony in a humorous quip to Obama.
“I am also pleased, Mr. President,” he said, “that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, ‘What would George do?’”