Obama 'Formal and Subdued,' Bush 'Lighthearted and Engaging'
June 1, 2012
It's Barack Obama's house now, but his predecessor and political foil, George W. Bush, stole the show at the White House on Thursday with his wisecracks and grin.
"Thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging," the former president said, referring to members of his family and former staff, invited back to the executive mansion for the unveiling of his and Laura Bush's official portraits. "Behave yourselves," he jokingly admonished his crowd.
Bush told the current president he was pleased to know "that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, 'What would George do?'"
Free from the stress of the presidency and after three years spent largely out of the spotlight, a relaxed and jovial Bush came back with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, for a rare gathering of three commanders in chief. Former first lady Barbara Bush was there, too, as were George W. and Laura's daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
While Bush, Obama and their wives spoke about the warmth between their families, there was little of that on display between the two presidents. They traded handshakes but no hugs. There was little casual small talk as they entered and exited the East Room or as they stood on stage together.
"We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences," Obama said.
That the relationship between Obama and Bush is cordial but not close is hardly a surprise.
Obama is still bad-mouthing Bush's time in office, blaming him for the economic crisis, the soaring federal debt and the unfinished wars the Democrat inherited from his Republican predecessor. And in the midst of an election season, Obama is trying to lump the economic policies of his current Republican rival, Mitt Romney, in with Bush's.
Standing side by side in the grand, chandeliered East Room, Obama was mostly formal and subdued while Bush was lighthearted and engaging, relishing in the warm greetings from veterans of his two terms in office.
Bush said he was pleased that the White House portrait collection now starts and ends with a "George W." Noting that George Washington's portrait was famously saved by first lady Dolley Madison when the British burned the White House in 1814, Bush pointed to his own portrait and told Michelle Obama that "if anything happens, there's your man."
With a smile, the first lady assured him in her own remarks, "I promise, I'm going straight for" it in case of emergency.
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