At a ceremony today to unveil the official portraits of President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush, President Obama steered the dedication speech toward his own experiences in the White House.
“It’s been said that no one can ever truly understand what it’s like being President until they sit behind that desk and feel the weight and responsibility for the first time. And that is true. After three and a half years in office — and much more gray hair — I have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the Presidents who came before me, including my immediate predecessor, President Bush,” Obama said.
“In this job, 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 President Bush and I both learned pretty quickly.”
He talked about how presidents may have political differences, but all understand each other when it comes to the weight of the job. He hailed Bush for knowing “that a true test of patriotism is the willingness to freely and graciously pass the reins of power on to somebody else.”
“The months before I took the oath of office were a chaotic time. We knew our economy was in trouble, our fellow Americans were in pain, but we wouldn’t know until later just how breathtaking the financial crisis had been,” Obama said. “And still, over those two and a half months — in the midst of that crisis — President Bush, his Cabinet, his staff, many of you who are here today, went out of your ways — George, you went out of your way — to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible.”
“…And last year, when we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, I made it clear that our success was due to many people in many organizations working together over many years — across two administrations. That’s why my first call once American forces were safely out of harm’s way was to President Bush,” he added.
Bush thanked the Obamas for inviting 14 members of the Bush family and his “rowdy” friends to his “hanging.”
“I am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection,” Bush quipped. “It now starts and ends with a George W.”
“When the British burned the White House, as Fred mentioned, in 1814, Dolley Madison famously saved this portrait of the first George W. Now, Michelle, if anything happens, there’s your man,” he added to laughter and applause.
Laura Bush quipped that her portrait looks better than the her bobblehead doll found on the clearance shelf of the gift shop at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia.
“It’s meaningful to me as a private person to know that these portraits will be on view at the White House, that my portrait will hang just down the hall from my mother-in-law, and that George’s portrait will hang very close to his dad’s,” she said. “But what’s more meaningful is it’s meaningful to me as a citizen. This was our family’s home for eight years. It was our home, but it wasn’t our house. This house belongs to the people whose portraits will never hang here, the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people whose lives inspired us and whose expectations guided us during the years that we lived here.”