American Elephants

Unveiling Presidential Portraits by The Elephant's Child

Today, the Obamas invited President George W. Bush and Laura Bush to the White House for the unveiling of the official presidential portraits.  The ceremony was warm and friendly, more so on the video, which is here, than in the transcript, which is here.  You will enjoy watching the video. George W. is charming, funny, and very gracious. I really miss that man.

The photos of the portraits below, are cropped, but you can get an idea. Mrs. Bush’s portrait is full length, and from the pictures, her dress may have been navy blue, or black, or possibly something else. The portraits are skilled, and it was charming of Mrs. Bush to thank the artist and mention his family.

These ceremonies are always more awkward when the portraits are of a previous president of a different party who you’ve just been blaming for everything for three years. But they mind their manners and do it nicely. Jonathan Horn at Ricochet dug up the speech that President Bush gave when unveiling the portraits of the Clintons. It’s short, but gracious, and a model to follow.

These portraits will be there for the ages, barring some awful incident, and Michelle has promised to save George W’s portrait, as Dolley Madison saved the other George W.’s.


A Tone-Deaf and Classless White House. by The Elephant's Child

America’s highest civilian award is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the ceremony last Tuesday, while presenting World War II Polish resistance hero Jan Karski with a posthumous medal,  President Obama  made a reference to” Polish death camps.”  It was Jan Karski who brought evidence of the existence of Nazi Death Camps to America.

You can’t go stumbling along in foreign relations without an understanding of history. Europeans have long memories, and Poland was a Nazi-occupied country, and a great many Poles were executed at Auschwitz and Birkenau. The presence of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland was a deep affront.  To suggest that the camps were Polish when awarding a medal, posthumously, to a resistance hero is more than tasteless. To assign the task — not of apologizing — but of saying oh, the President just misspoke, is a greater insult.

But then Obama is the one who notified the Poles with a midnight phone call on September 17, 2009, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, that we were pulling the plug on our missile defense base they had stuck out their necks to host.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk responded: “I am certain that our American friends are capable of a more explicit reaction than issuing a correction and the spokesperson of the White House expressing regret. When someone says “Polish death camps,” it’s as if there was no Hitler. That is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride.”

Embarrassing incidents can be smoothed with a real apology.

ADDENDUM:Lo and behold. “The issue hasn’t gone away just because he wants it to,” and, as Jim Treacher at the Daily Caller reports, “in an undoubtedly ego-bruising development, he’s been forced to publicly apologize.” The Hill reported:

President Obama has penned a letter of apology expressing “regret” over using the phrase “Polish death camps” in a ceremony earlier this week, which has drawn heavy criticism from Polish officials.

“In referring to ‘a Polish death camp’ rather than ‘a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,’ I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world,” Obama wrote in a letter released by the Polish government. “I regret the error and agree that this moment is an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth.”

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