While President Obama frequently blames his predecessor for the “mess” he inherited, today he warmly welcomed former President George W. Bush back to the White House to pay tribute to his legacy, saying the bond they share as presidents transcends their political differences.
The 43rd president and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, were back at their former home for the official unveiling of their portraits, a presidential tradition that dates back to 1800.
“In this job,” Obama said, “no decision that reaches your desk is easy; no choice you make is without costs. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to make everybody happy. I think that’s something that President Bush and I both learned pretty quickly.
“That’s why, from time to time, those of us who have had the privilege to hold this office find ourselves turning to the only people on Earth that know the feeling,” he said. “We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences.”
Obama often publicly blames Bush for the economic crisis and the nation’s continued high unemployment, as well as many of America’s foreign policy challenges. After three and a half years in office, Obama said he now has “a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the presidents who came before me, including my immediate predecessor, President Bush.”
While he graciously welcomed Bush back to the White House, Obama did mention the struggling economy he inherited, thanking his predecessor for helping him transition into office during the economic crisis.
“President Bush understood that rescuing our economy was not just a Democratic or Republican issue; it was an American priority. I’ll always be grateful for that,” Obama said.
“I will always remember the gathering you hosted for all the living former presidents before I took office, your kind words of encouragement,” he added, before joking, “Plus, you also left me a really good TV sports package. I use it.”
President Bush seemed to relish being in the spotlight as he cracked jokes about his now-permanent place in the White House.
“Thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging,” he quipped, repeating a line his father, former President George H.W. Bush, said at his portrait unveiling in 1995.
“I am also pleased, Mr. President, 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?,” he said, chuckling.
He also had a message for the current first lady, Michelle Obama.
“When the British burned the White House … in 1814, Dolly Madison famously saved this portrait of the first George W.,” Bush said.
“Now Michelle,” Bush added, pointing to his portrait, “if anything happens, there’s your man.”
The room erupted in laughter.
The painting, by artist John Howard Sanden, depicts Bush standing in the center of the Oval Office.
Surrounded by his family and former staff, Bush paid tribute to his father, who sat in the front row in a wheelchair alongside his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush.
“I am honored to be hanging near a man who gave me the greatest gift possible: unconditional love. And that would be number 41,” a misty-eyed Bush said of his father.
Bush 43 then introduced his wife, calling her the greatest first lady ever.
“Sorry mom,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Would you agree to a tie?”