Doctor Science has some thoughts on George W. Bush’s National Portrait Gallery portrait (unveiled last year):
As I’ve worked on this post I’ve been going back and forth in my mind. Sometimes I think this portrait is a big F.U. to the verdict of history and the office of the Presidency: “You think I failed? I didn’t even try! I didn’t want to do the work, I didn’t even think of myself as the President. And you know what, Dad? I love Mom best.”
But then sometimes I look at it another way, and think he’s refusing to have a serious Presidential portrait because he knows he failed at being President, and his only hope for swaying the verdict of history is to say: “But I was a really nice guy, honest! Just the sort of person you’d want to have a conversation with. Let’s not think about unpleasantness, OK?
Quite. The portrait reaffirms the basic falsehood of George W. Bush’s public persona: The idea that the product of a wealthy New England political dynasty was in some fashion an anti-elitist, “normal guy.” That falsehood lay the foundation for his success in the Republican Party, and indeed allowed him to dismiss the noblesse oblige that seemingly animated the politics of his father and his grandfather.
I like to think that the scene in the portrait depicts a moment just after he signed off on the torture of some suspect in Afghanistan, or authorized some new military operation in a distant land that he neither knew much about nor cared to learn.