Home / Robert Farley / Part of the Same Hypocrisy…

Part of the Same Hypocrisy…


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.

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  • Malaclypse

    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.

    I like to think it was representing this day.

  • jeer9

    Not to read too much into the painting’s composition (and maybe the artist just wanted to show the Chimpster as a regular guy sitting on the edge of a sofa) but presidential portraits usually, if I’m not mistaken, have a more dignified background or at least a blander, nondescript sort of setting. The flowers of “liberation” on the dining table and the empty seats around it sort of capture the miscalculation and sense of personal loss (innumerable dead) that we should always associate with this twit.

  • Plop


    A quote from some Crime and Punishment criticism that seems appropriate:

    And it is precisely in his indifference to good and evil, in his gratuitous inflicting of suffering upon the innocent, that we recognize in Svidrigailov the poisoned herald of our century; and not merely of the modern individualist who has become a law unto himself, but of whole societies that in full self-consciousness, and Christian consciousness, and in a state of maximum security and freedom (and sometimes also of boredom) have chosen to transgress, arrogantly and mercilessly, like Napoleon, to “punish the peoples,” to inflict suffering and disaster upon the innocent.


    • dave3544

      /delurk more often.

    • njc

      Although the piece you’re quoting may be focused on Crime and Punishment, Svidrigailov is actually a character in The Brothers Karamazov. Of course, since Dostoevsky reuses character types, the description fits someone in many of his novels. More substantively, I don’t think that Bush–or Americans on the whole–chose to invade Iraq, etc., to demonstrate that he, or we, were living beyond the bounds of conventional morality.

      • Plop

        Nope, Svidrigailov is in C+P . I think you’re thinking of Smerdyakov, “the fifth Karamazov”.

        As far as the quote goes, it’s Raskolnikov who does terrible things to try and prove to himself he’s above conventional moral law. Svidrigailov doesn’t care; “it’s precisely his indifference to good and evil, in his gratuitous inflicting of suffering upon the innocent” that makes him a monster. That same indifference and willingness to inflict gratuitous suffering applies to the society that spawned Svid., a society “that in full self-consciousness, and Christian consciousness, and in a state of maximum security and freedom (and sometimes also of boredom) have chosen to transgress, arrogantly and mercilessly . . . to inflict suffering and disaster upon the innocent”.

        I dunno, seems like a pretty apt description of both Bush and America re: Afghanistan, Iraq, torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo . . .

  • TT

    I see the artist chose to leave W’s crotch in the shadows, thus depriving the viewer a gander at the two watermelon-sized testicles residing therein. I mean, after all, Teh Surge was the ballsiest ballsy strategical decision in the whole history of ginormous brass balls strategery. Or something. And one of the really cool things about being president is that you don’t owe anybody an explanation about your ginormous brass balls.

    Of course, a lot of people got killed, and maimed, and tortured, but you can’t make an omelette . . .

  • Bill Murray

    I’m wondering where the pretzel is?

  • “I can’t be a president, just look at me! I can’t even find a fucking shirt that fits!

    “Waitin’ for those guests to show up. Yessir.”

    • catclub

      You are right! That left sleeve must be 4 1/2 feet long.
      The right sleeve is correctly sized.

      • If you look at the other presidential pics Bush is flashing that above-the-wrist flesh around like some cheap tart.

  • DocAmazing

    He has the facial expression of a man negotiating what his sentence will be before he will tell you where your daughter is buried.

  • Lindsay Beyerstein

    He looks like someone’s pervy Uncle George, poised to make his move.

    • Scott Lemieux

      FTW, although Doc is a strong contender.

  • cleter

    I like to think the artist took a lot of time trying to come up with the most unflattering shade of baby-poo green to make the couch.

    Where is that supposed to be, exactly? The lobby of a Holiday Inn Express, waiting for Laura to bring him some cinnamon rolls?

  • In the Era of Photoshop, this particular pose is a Gift.

  • Murc

    Avocado green sofa and orange, if I’m not mistaken, shag rug?

    Where the hell did he pose for this, his family room in 1976?

  • You know what this demands? An Ann Althouse post.

  • partisan

    I don’t think “noblesse oblige” really describes Bush 41. He was more the Lord High Everything Else of the Republican Party, rather than acting from any genuine sense of public service. Whatever his own beliefs, he was willing to go along with the Republican Right to get elected, even being ostentatiously “born again” just in time for 1988. His finest appointment, that of David Souter, represents more John Sununu’s incompetence than any real principle. His biggest two foreign policy achievements showed no wisdom on his part: instead it consisted of Gorbachev and Arafat making concession after concession, and the United States grudgingly accepting them. The stingy and uncharitable attitude assured the continued Israeli/Palestine conflict, and also assured that once a minimally competent government returned to Russia it would be neither very liberal nor very sympathetic to the West.

    • John

      This seems deeply unfair. There were innumerable ways that the fall of communism and, especially, the reunification of Germany, could have gone horribly wrong, and Bush and Baker basically managed it without a hitch. Obviously, most of the credit belongs to Gorbachev, but that doesn’t mean Bush doesn’t deserve *some* credit.

      As for Arafat, I’m not sure what you’re specifically referring to. My sense was always that Bush I was more willing to cross the Israelis than any president since has been.

      That’s not to say Bush I was a perfect president for foreign affairs. But he was a pretty good one. In domestic policy, he also helped negotiate the 1990 budget agreement, which was a significant step towards balancing the budget and which angered his own right wing. On the environment, he collaborated with the Democrats in congress to pass important amendments to the Clean Air Act. My dad, who has worked for EPA for more than 35 years, always insists that Bill Reilly, Bush’s EPA administrator, was one of the best he’s served under – better than any of the Democratic appointees, in fact.

      Bush I was obviously bad in all kinds of ways, but he wasn’t an ideologue, and he was willing to set partisanship aside to actually work for what he saw as the best interests of the country. It’s hard to imagine getting a Republican president anywhere near as tolerable for the foreseeable future.

      • As much as I hate to say it, the Americans With Disabilities Act was an important piece of civil rights legislation that goes on his record as well.

        • Robert Farley

          Right; “noblesse oblige” is obviously not an unqualified good. Its invocation reaffirms certain hierarchies and undercuts many potential structural solutions to given problems. Nevertheless, I still think it’s correct to say that it animated Bush I’s approach to politics, and that it was notoriously absent in the makeup of his son.

          • Hogan

            Along with every other variety of oblige.

  • partisan

    I’d also like to comment on class demagoguery and the Republicans. Nixon, of course, endlessly reminded people that he didn’t have the advantages of Rockefeller and Kennedy. The people who accepted this line never worried that Bob Taft, being the son of a president and chief justice of the Supreme Court, had started life with more advantages than Eisenhower or Truman. Nor were they concerned about the unremarkable upbrinings of Humphrey and McGovern. Nor were they concerned that Goldwater had inherited his money, in start contrast to LBJ. Nor were they upset with Bush 41 in his races with Dukakis and Clinton, or with McCain over Obama.

  • mark f

    The fact that he did not wear a tie shows him to be an arrogant elitist unpretentious guy with no respect for the office who is in touch with the common man.

  • Davis

    The casual look is in contrast to his insistence that he and every other man in the White House keep their jackets on all day. This was reportedly to mock the Clinton years when jeans were common. As they saying Texas, all hat, no cattle.

  • Halloween Jack

    It’s a pretty accurate portrait, in that it conveys the expression of a man who wants you to like him, but knows that you probably won’t, ever. Laura’s is also uncannily apt; she bears the sly, satisfied face of someone who’s just ordered her orbital death ray to take out Mauritania, for practice.

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