18 Mar 2013

Dubya, where are you?

I have been noticing a bumper sticker of late. It sports a large W –as in George W Bush- and asks: are you missing me yet? The answer from the opinion polls is still a resounding NO.

Although it is a sign that the Bush name is now considered less toxic in American politics that other Bushes in this dynastic political firm have come out of the undergrowth hoping to make a stab at high office.

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Jeb Bush, George’s younger brother and the one of whom it was always said he was “destined” for the White House -until big brother came along to queer his pitch, has openly contemplated running for President in 2016.

There is George P Bush, the former president’s nephew who is hoping to become land commissioner in Texas, a powerful position and great place to build an electoral base for future campaigns. But what about George W Bush himself?

He is so absent from the national and global stage you would be forgiven for thinking that he has gone into a witness protection program. While Bill Clinton was busy on the stump for Barack Obama, W was all but invisible.

So as the anniversary of the Iraq War approached I decided to go to his home state of Texas, desperately seeking George. He has a large house in the affluent Dallas neighbourhood of Preston Hollow and his ranch near Crawford, where he used to huddle with world leaders like Blair and Berlusconi.

Ask the neighbours in both and no one has actually seen the former president. And yet he has been very busy. There is the library that bears his name, a sandstone mausoleum of memories that will soon open on the campus of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Since Franklin D Roosevelt, every retired president has set up a library to guard and display the letters, documents and memorabilia that will burnish his legacy.

It will be fascinating to see how the custodians of the Bush name deal with the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina, water boarding and Guantanamo Bay.

There will be plenty of stuff about his good works in Africa, helping to combat cervical cancer amongst women, promote girl’s education with Laura the former First Lady and build libraries.

Even when he was in the White House Bush spent three times as much on aid to Africa as his predecessor Bill Clinton. Not that anyone was paying attention. There were too many distractions.

But what I really want to know is whether the Bush library will display W’s best hidden secret: his paintings. There are self portraits of him soaking in the bath tub with his knees and toes demurely peeking out from the suds.

He must have been channeling Bonnard or Matisse. Then there is the shower scene. W turns his back to us from the waist up in the power shower, his tiny face with pinhole eyes visible in the round shaving mirror.

¬†This one seems to be in the school of David Hockney. There are also plenty of portraits of dogs, his own and other people’s, which owe more to the school of chocolate box art.

Apparently W was inspired to paint by that other war time leader, Winston Churchill.

And his friend Jim Glassman pointed out to me: “He’s not dabbling. He takes it very seriously.” He spent a whole month in Florida learning how to master oils and now he is said to spend about six hours a day at the easel.

As he soldiers away at his canvasses he quietly and confidently hopes that the future will favourably decide the legacy of a president who left office as one of the most controversial and least popular in American history.

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