The Paint By Numbers Post-Presidency

Self-Portrait by George W. Bush

There’s a fierce article about Bush the Younger at I don’t agree with *all* of Sarah Jones’ points, but it’s vividly written and has a brilliant title:

George W. Bush Can’t Paint His Way Out Of Hell

Jones examines the rehabilitation of Bush’s image and finds it creepy. I find it both inevitable and creepy. Inevitable in that even very unpopular presidents such as Harry Truman regain some of their luster once out of office. Creepy because W was such a bad president. But the Impeached Insult Comedian’s four-year reign was so abominable that even an incompetent pro-torture warmonger like W looks good by contrast.

She begins with some art criticism:

I am not an art critic, but I don’t think George W. Bush’s new portraits are very good. They inspire nothing but malaise and communicate a dilettante energy. Painting is to Bush what politics used to be: a hobby for a wealthy man. Yet there is something revelatory about them, though this may be unintentional on the part of the artist.

Bush was a dilettante for his entire political career. It was defined by his complicated relationship with Poppy Bush. It’s the only thing complicated about the simpleton son. W wanted to both avenge his father’s defeat and top him by winning reelection. The fact that Saddam Hussein tried to whack Poppy Bush was a driving force in the invasion and kinda sorta conquest of Iraq.

The Iraq War was a fool’s errand and the man who put the Dick in the Vice Presidency played his nominal boss for a fool as did Rummy. Poppy Bush knew that occupying Iraq would be a disaster, so he declined to do so. His son rushed in where even that fool refused to tread.

I think this is the most revealing passage in Sarah Jones’ piece:

In an era marked by the GOP’s steady march to the far right, the hunt for some vestigial sanity in the conservative movement leads many pundits astray. It’s easier to praise Bush than it is to grasp what he signifies. If Bush is our best example of a compassionate conservative, what does that say of the movement he represents — and what, too, does it indicate about the office he once held? The presidency was broken before Trump occupied it, and so was the GOP, and so was the conservative movement.

W is Trump with better table manners. As president, he presented himself as a conservative true believer, but he lacked the pragmatic streak that Reagan and Bush the Elder had as Oval Ones. He was not clever enough to compromise then sell it as an act of principle. That was Reagan’s specialty.

W was the guy people mistook Reagan for: an amiable dunce easily manipulated by his aides. W’s popularity drowned along with some 1900+ souls lost during Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. The rest of his presidency was unmitigated disaster. He was reduced to shoe ducking:

One distinct similarity between Bush and Trump was that both were divisive presidents. On more than one occasion, Bush said that you were either with him or the terrorists. I was with neither.

Sarah Jones closes thusly:

Perhaps Trump will take up painting some day — the devil only knows what his subjects would be: landscapes of his properties, portraits of his immediate family, a still life of a dollar bill — and the power of the presidency will launder the reputation of an evil man. We’re already watching it happen.

She missed the punch line: He’d paint nothing but self-portraits. Believe me.

The last word goes to The Band:

3 thoughts on “The Paint By Numbers Post-Presidency

  1. Bush’s win in Florida in 2000 was the turning point in electoral shenanigans and a harbinger (blueprint?) for Trump in ’16 and ’20. Florida Repugnicants learned you don’t actually have to get the most votes, just make it as difficult to vote as possible (remember those butterfly ballots?) and then if it still doesn’t turn out your way litigate, litigate, litigate till someone somewhere says yeah sure ok you win. Had Kerry contested Ohio in 2004 things might have turned out differently. He chose not to because he didn’t want to put the country through a retread of the 2000 election. Honorable thing to do, but we’ll never know how many died because he didn’t.

    And Trump will never take up painting. In order to paint you have to be able to sit quietly and contemplatively for hours at a time. Snorted Adderall won’t let you do that.

  2. I enjoy your column but have been reluctant to comment because of the information I was asked to submit to do so. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that you misspelled Reagan’s name (Regan) twice in this column. Normally I wouldn’t point out misspellings but a president’s name is kind of a big deal. Please delete my comment after you read it; I don’t want to be the grammar Nazi.

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