Our Iraqi president, whose gunboat diplomacy did so much to promote the gaiety of nations in our time, has – as casual followers of presidential afterlives may know – taken up painting. Like so many men in the public eye, he wants “us” to know that he has an inner life – or has just found one – with which he might explain himself, interpret the history he helped create – while messing around with tubes and brushes in the temperature-controlled basement so many serious artists must do without.
He has chosen to be mum about History and not very forthcoming about himself. He professes to be a journeyman artist whose initial stumblings he is offering us with the good faith of someone we will very likely forgive for not being great (too many people have already done that for Bush-the-Politician), but who’s trying very hard to get better. Perhaps no other president has worked more diligently at something after leaving office than Dubya has at the easel – and it most certainly shows!
I’m going to presume to review his paintings online – a sort of analysis-from-a-distance the ex-President kinda did himself. He took in his very first salvo – which he and his WH buddies were pleased to call Shock and Awe – in pretty much the same way: from the convenience of Pennsylvania Avenue, among well-wishers, policy architects, and Secret Service guys who would have, however, shot a three-dimensional intruder who might gave cared to horn in.
Bush’s paintings are curiously a-historical in that they have no context except for the wire photography anybody might catch on the web. Essentially, anyone could have gained access to Bush’s source material – a far cry from what happened during the super-tense period that culminated in us coming up with no damned good reason for invading a sovereign country. Does Bush’s bland historiography say anything about that? Not that I can see. But I’m not right up on these things. Maybe there’s some “scent of war” on them – as the fog continues to gather.
I can see one thing, which unites each and every image Mr. Bush has done in the privacy and comfort of his own home – which Iraqi citizens couldn’t take for granted during our colorful barrage. Bush isn’t attempting to exonerate himself. That sort of penance is for the guilty. Nor is he attempting an “I-Was-There” quality. The work is thrift-store generic and could have been painted by somebody working in a basement without any of the comforts to which ex-Presidents fall heir and, in Bush’s case, feel as if they’ve earned. And while I would be delighted to wipe the smirk off of his smirky little chops with a guilty verdict myself, I’m just a not-so-humble reviewer without portfolio or access.
Yet I have spent no telling how many hours fantasizing about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice clapped inside of a “paddy” wagon on a rutted road without any seat cushions and a driver who’s had a few and isn’t very keen on newfangled technology. (Like so many luddites of a certain age, he prefers maps a fellow can read!)
Have I ever fantasized about running this trigger-happy, photo-op-besotted, cravenly patriotic, criticism-averse, and criminally complacent gang past a beside-itself jury toward a clanking cell and tossing them all in it.
“When is our dinner?” Rumsfeld might ask. To which I always – ignoring the when and substituting a more important qualifier – say: “Where is it indeed? Perhaps you can look for it among all the WMD’s you found. Yes, George Junior, I know you must have confused these things with IUD’s. That is funny! Almost as funny, Dickie Boy, as you conjuring a mustered army from a stupid man’s ego. And you, Condi, for getting the job of your life and holding on to it in the face of your intellectual disdain for the yahoos in your midst. Rummy, you were smarter and savvier, but equally deluded and as fantastically unscrupulous as Satan himself. Behold, I am the Collective Conscience, which withered out of sight and mind because of your shenanigans – but it has finally roared, pounced, and taken you.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t be interested in these paintings. They represent the kind of revisionist history that does not describe, but redact.
The Art of Leadership: a President’s Personal Diplomacy will be on display through June 3, 2014 at:
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
2943 SMU Boulevard/Dallas, TX 75205
For further information, call: (214) 346-1650