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Why Do We Venerate George W. Bush’s Creepy War Portraits?


George W. Bush doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He was a bad president who shat all over the economy and did more to smash up America’s global hegemony than any single president thus far, but I don’t wish any special misfortune upon him. Even though everything that’s happening in Iraq today can without any shadow of a doubt be laid squarely and totally on his doorstep, and a lot of other things, too — Iran, Syria, and Russia’s willingness to “go it alone” in Georgia and Ukraine, to begin with — Bush is, like, probably the kind of dude you’d want to get a beer with.

Why, then, are so many outlets falling all over themselves to rehabilitate him? Isn’t “not a bad dude” enough? Haven’t we basically already let the man off for screwing the pooch as much as possible, to the point where there was no more room for error? To the point where Clinton and Bush became bywords for catastrophe and disaster — and the American people elected a maniacal con man instead? How in the Christ does President George W. Bush deserve a modern makeover?

I know, he likes painting, and isn’t horrible at it, according to art experts (I think his paintings suck, but I’m just one man with questionable aesthetic taste). You know what other objectionable global leader who liked to start wars wasn’t an awful painter? I’m not gonna say it. Bottom line — the fuck is going on with this, this, this, and (from the New Yorker no less) this?

And this!? The fact that he painted injured or uninjured war veterans is at best interesting from a psychological perspective. At worst — and given the man’s accomplishments, I’m inclined to read it that way — it’s creepy as fuck. If anything, Bush’s project to paint as many wounded veterans as possible feels more like the kind of half-apology a narcissist would make, a Ferris Bueller-like “see how I helped you, Cameron,” after destroying the poor kid’s dad’s Ferrari. That, or a variation on Stephen King’s short story “1408” about a hotel room wherein the people who die there live on forever, trapped in a sanity-bending oil painting.

I’ve read the articles, and understand that the people who have been painted by Bush have since “forgiven” him and are on good terms with him. NPR reports that one of the people who sat with Bush to be painted, Michael Rodriguez, said the following: “I’m blown away that my former commander in chief would actually take the time to paint those that served under him.” He also says Bush is venerated in the Special Operations community (more specifically, he is venerated by those Special Operators who venerate him, which is not “the community,” it’s a subsection), which is precisely the type of vindication Bush seems to be going for.

What? Were we in the same war-torn places? Did we have similar experiences, shooting from sundown to sunup, surrounded by hostile enemy? Who cares if Bush has decided to help some of the veterans he wounded through his unwise and misguided invasion of Iraq in 2003? Bush’s presidency was never more than the casual whim of a rich trust-fund baby, and regardless of talent, his painting hobby is an emotionally logical consequence of that poorly conceived and executed 8 years of state-shipwrecking. Consequence is not redemption — redemption requires hard work, effort, dedication, and sacrifice. Tell me how Bush has sacrificed through this gesture. Please.

Read this: should Bush’s paintings of veterans be celebrated? Or should he sit back on his ranch and cool his heels, grateful that he was born into an obscenely powerful and wealthy family, and also that he hasn’t been submitted to frontier justice for his enthusiastic deep-dicking of the American dream? Should he anonymously commission some worthy veteran artist who was affected by Bush’s choice, rather than make just another in a series of causally dissociative choices that benefit Bush himself, at the expense of veterans, soldiers, and America? You be the judge.

Either the painting is, legitimately, a form of personal grieving and atonement (Bush denies this in interviews), in which case — great, let the man “atone” for his sins in peace — or it’s a cynical ploy to rehabilitate his presidency. Just because Trump is awful, historically awful, doesn’t mean we have to somehow forgive or forget that Bush, in his day, was awful as well.

For whatever it’s worth, in my community of veterans, Bush is still very much to blame for 2003, and a lot of what’s happened since. Painting one face or one thousand will never erase or change, in the slightest, what he did when he knocked over the dominoes that are still falling today. His forgiveness for the crime of bringing war to the Middle East is between him and his God — as for me, nothing he does will erase even a single drop of blood from his hands.

But I’m sure George is one cool hombre, or whatever.