THE WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush shared a stage and some laughs at the White House on Thursday. Bush and his wife Laura returned to the White House for the unveiling of their official portraits.
The ceremonial hanging of the portraits brought former President Bush back to the White House for the first time in two years. He has made few public appearances since leaving office in 2009.
A large group of family members, friends and former White House officials attended the unveiling of the portrait of the 43rd president by American artist John Howard Sanden.
Bush is pictured standing in the Oval Office, in front of a painting titled “A Charge to Keep” that hung in the office throughout his presidency. He said the inclusion of that background detail was appropriate. “I asked John to include it because it reminds me of the wonderful people with whom I was privileged to serve. Whether they served in the Cabinet or on the presidential staff, these men and women, many of whom are here, worked hard and served with honor. We had a charge to keep and we kept the charge," he said.
Obama has been highly critical of his predecessor, starting in his 2008 presidential campaign, in which he attacked Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and his handling of the war in Afghanistan.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has pointed out the severity of the financial crisis that began late in Mr. Bush’s term, often blaming his predecessor for the situation.
He again referred to the 2008 financial problems on Thursday, but thanked Bush for taking time out from dealing with the situation to ease his transition into office. “President Bush understood that rescuing our economy was not just a Democratic or Republican issue, it was an American priority. I will always be grateful for that," he said.
Obama said that despite their political disagreements, only the five living U.S. presidents understand the challenges of the office.
“No matter how hard you try, you are not going to make everybody happy. I think that is something that President Bush and I both learned pretty quickly. And that is why, from time to time, those of us who have had the privilege to hold this office find ourselves turning to the only people on Earth who know the feeling. We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences," he said.
Bush joked that his likeness on the White House wall could be an inspiration to his successor. “I am also pleased, Mr. President, 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?’"
Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, was also in attendance, with his wife Barbara. The younger President Bush gave a short and emotional tribute to his father, who is approaching his 87th birthday, thanking him for his “unconditional love.”