Of all the things I ever imagined happening after George W. Bush left office, this is not it — and I love it.
I love it partly because these paintings really are oddly earnest; and they are not very good; and for reasons totally unknown, Bush has decided to exhibit them in public places while his wife talks about his work with just a hint of condescension.
But I mainly love it because this whole painting project is so very un-presidential. While many post-presidency activities try to perpetuate the glory of the ex-President’s time in office, this does not. Presidential libraries, speaking tours, charitable activities — all of these things are designed to bolster the former Presidents’ prestige (and sometimes their bank accounts), adding to the personality cult that surrounds the White House.
And while I understand a desire for our head of state to have some degree of pomp and circumstance, a healthy cut-back in the celebrity that the Oval Office brings is much overdue. The President is not our national dad or the “boss of the country,” as some have bizarrely suggested, and his job ought to be one of public service. Yet America too often maintains an obsession with the presidency which isn’t conducive to reasoned critiques of any administration’s policies.
And that brings me back to Bush and his paintings (especially the bath and shower self portraits). He signs them “43” — as in 43rd President — and they are not exactly commanding of respect. But where Bush’s paintings may indeed excel is in diminishing the cultural power of the presidency.
I only wish he’d starting sharing them a few years earlier…and I wish someone would buy Barack Obama a set of watercolors.
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