The Literalist Mind of George W. Bush, Artist

He's still the man we knew for eight years as president.

You get the sense from Jenna Bush Hager’s interview with her father, former Most Powerful Man in the World George W. Bush, this morning on the Today show that even his family would have been less surprised to see him have become a house painter in his retirement than an artist.

The occasion was the opening of a new exhibit featuring Bush’s portraits of world leaders at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

I’ll leave the art criticism to our Peter Simek. What I found most revealing about Mr. Bush in this segment is one short exchange with Jenna about his picture of Tony Blair:

Jenna: Has he seen this portrait?

W: I don’t think he has. No telling how these people are going to react when they see their portrait. I think I told Tony I was painting him, and he kind of ‘brushed it off,’ so to speak. <wheezing laugh>

Jenna: No art pun intended there?

Bush (serious faced, irritated): That was an art pun.

Jenna’s trying to help her dad carry his corny joke forward, and instead of just going along with her bit of canned irony, he reacts to her statement at face value and feels the need to underline the fact that, yes, he was just joking.

This is the man we knew as president of the United States for eight years, a man of a decidedly black and white worldview. A man who repeatedly said things like “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  Even if he’s now spending his days painting pictures of his dog, it’s still him.


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  • RAB

    Totally disagree with your read on the art pun segment. Bush has a very arch and dry sense of humor (as anyone who has heard him speak extemporaneously well knows). I invite you, Mr. Heid (if you can let go your knee-jerk MSM Bush-derangement prejudices for a moment), to go back and watch the exchange again. Bush is being funny and self-deprecating.

  • AtoZ

    I must agree with Heid. The clear read on this exchange is that Bush neither knows in advance, nor intuits on the fly, that the phrase “no pun intended” is an ironic cliche phrase uttered when the referenced pun is indeed clearly intended. On several occasions during his presidency I noticed a similar apparent lack of understanding of certain ironic statements (not all, but some). In this case, his delivery was precisely the same as during the press conference in 2005 (not involving irony) when he felt the need to school a gaggle of reporters on the meaning of a word. He told them that the word “disassemble” means “to not tell the truth.” Obviously he was actually referring to the similar-sounding word “dissemble,” not “disassemble,” but he clearly did not know the difference between the two words when speaking aloud, as president, to reporters. I would argue that such errors are not a sign of a lack of intelligence, however. Rather, they are a sign of someone who simply does not read often, and/or read with much depth. It simply marks an unfamiliarity with words and phrases that other folks pick up through context, when they read. We all know plenty of folks we could describe the same way, and we do not pillory them or call them stupid. The overarching point, however, is that he was the president of the United States. It remains shocking, to many, that we elected someone with such a mediocre command of English to be our president. Apologists would call him “plain spoken,” of course, but that’s just laughable spin. Every bit of public evidence about the man suggests that he is, indeed, very literal minded. Do we see anything imaginatively abstract in his paintings, for example? Or do we just see literal, representational imagery, of people and objects?

  • Glenn Hunter

    Thanks for the 25-cent psychoanalysis.

  • Avid Reader

    I disagree. Corpsman.

  • Jack Jett

    A large blank canvas entitled …..WMD’s would might be punny. However I suffer from chronic knee-jerk Bush-derangement syndrome so I fail to see his humor or any need for SELF depreciation.