Sunday, March 08, 2009

Obama and The Churchill Bust

First, thanks to all of you who called to my attention President Obama’s decision to remove the Churchill bust from the Oval Office and return it to the Brits.

I held off commenting on the story until now for a number of reasons I’ll discuss after first posting the following excerpts from a Feb. 14 Daily Telegraph story. If you’re familiar with the Telegraph’s story, you can skip down to below the star line where my comments begin.

From the Telegraph - - -

A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Diplomats were at first reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the Churchill bronze, after its ejection from the seat of American power. But the British Embassy in Washington has now confirmed that it sits in the palatial residence of ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald, just down the road from Vice President Joe Biden's official residence. It is not clear whether the ambassador plans to keep it in Washington or send it back to London.

American politicians have made quoting Churchill, whose mother was American, something of an art form, but not Mr Obama, who prefers to cite the words and works of his hero Abraham Lincoln. Indeed a bust of Mr Lincoln now sits in the Oval Office where Epstein's Churchill once ruled the roost.

Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill's second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President's grandfather.

The rejection of the bust has left some British officials nervously reading the runes to see how much influence the UK can wield with the new regime in Washington.

Now it is likely that Gordon Brown will offer a alternative symbol of Anglo-American fealty when he visits Washington to meet Mr Obama for the first time since he became President. Diplomats are still working to finalise a date for the visit which is expected in the final week of this month or early in March. ….

The rest of the story’s here.


My Comments:

Americans understand that each President’s personal preferences govern to a large extent what items are displayed in the Oval Office. FDR surrounded himself with naval prints, paintings and ship models. So, to a lesser extent, did JFK. Ike favored paintings and prints reflecting themes from the American West. W favored art works from Texas.

So I have no problem with President Obama deciding he didn’t want the Churchill bust in the Oval Office.

But did he and his staff have to return it to the British in such a clumsy – here, take back your bust – way?

Of course not!

But even after acting in a clumsy manner, there was still an opportunity for Obama to redeem the situation.

And that’s why I didn’t comment at first.

Folks, I was hoping that between Team Obama’s clumsy return of the Churchill bust in early Feb. and PM Brown’s visit to The White House this past week, the two leaders and their staffs would arrange something that would eliminate concerns in reasonable minds that Obama meant to snub our closest and most important ally.

I was wishing for a graceful resolution of the matter in a way that would remind us all of the Anglo-American alliance’s paramount importance in maintaining freedom in the world.

Something like Obama asking Brown whether the British people (the Epstein bust is part of the national art collection) would consider making a permanent loan of the bust to the American people on condition that it be displayed in a prominent place in The White House as a symbol of the enduring friendship and alliance between our two peoples.

While Churchill reportedly didn’t like the Epstein bust, he'd have understood the symbolic value of placing the bust on display in one of The White House public rooms or perhaps the entry foyer used by heads of other nations and guests at state dinners.

If such a permanent loan of the bust could have been arranged, that would've been reason to hold a brief ceremony in The White House at which Brown and Obama could have spoken of the extraordinary symbolism of the event.

Epstein was British by adoption. He was born and grew up in New York City just a few miles from where the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. Examples of his work are here.

Churchill’s mother was born in Brooklyn; he was always proud of his American heritage.

Churchill was only the second person to be granted honorary American citizenship (Lafayette was the first). Although age prevented him from attending, a ceremony was held at The White House in 1963 at which President Kennedy spoke and made the citizenship presentation to Churchill’s son, Randolph, and grandson, Winston.

It’s often hard to correct mistakes. But in the case of the Churchill bust it would have been easy to get past Obama’s clumsiness and suggestion of snubbing to an act of grace reflecting appreciation for the best in the histories of Britain and the US.

But that didn’t happen; and you have to wonder why not.

During the later part of December 1941 and into January of 1942 Churchill, President Roosevelt and many of their top aides worked in Washington on a joint Anglo-American war strategy to defeat the Axis powers.

During that time Churchill stayed at The White House which he left on the morning of Dec. 26, 1941 to address a joint session of Congress. Here are the closing words of that address:

It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come the British and American peoples will for their own safety and for the good of all walk together side by side in majesty, in justice and in peace.



Anonymous said...

I know the perfect present PM Brown should give President Obama for the Oval Office: A small black box with a red button on it that says "SHOVE IT TO RESET".

Anonymous said...

When a nation elects an amateur politician from Chicago, is it surprising that he does clumsy and impolite things? Did any of the Obama staff try to stop the First Lady from going sleeveless for her official White House portrait? Have we ever heard a Commander in Chief say "Thanks guys" at the conclusion of a press conference?
Dubya may have lacked the finesse of a JFK, but he at least tried to act like a president. The One acts like a rap artist.
I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt even though he ran on an empty record. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that he isn't my president but some imposter put in the White House by George Soros.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...


He's a loser.


Anonymous said...

The whole thing was handled like it was amateur hour, it was very classless.

Scott S.

No justice, no peace said...

Brown - Obama gift exchange

It get's much better...this from Mark Steyn...

"British prime minister Gordon Brown thought long and hard about what gift to bring on his visit to the White House last week. Barack Obama is the first African-American president, so the prime minister gave him an ornamental desk-pen holder hewn from the timbers of one of the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving ships of the 19th century, HMS Gannet. Even more appropriate, in 1909 the Gannet was renamed HMS President.

The president’s guest also presented him with the framed commission for HMS Resolute, the lost British ship retrieved from the Arctic and returned by America to London, and whose timbers were used for a thank-you gift Queen Victoria sent to Rutherford Hayes: the handsome desk that now sits in the Oval Office.

And, just to round things out, as a little stocking stuffer, Gordon Brown gave President Obama a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill.

In return, America’s head of state gave the prime minister 25 DVDs of “classic American movies.”

...I’ll be interested to know if Mr. Brown has anything to play the films on back home, since U.S.-format DVDs don’t work in United Kingdom DVD players..."

John I don't recall seeing any comments from you regarding the aforementioned Churchill biography by Gilbert. If you've read it, or begun to read it, what's your opinion?

Anonymous said...

While Obama feeds his liberal friends the best Kobe beef, he probably offered PM Brown pork rinds and an RC Cola.

Anonymous said...

Pork rinds and an RC? Please. Our newly anointed president doesn't use redneck vittles. His choice would likely be chablis and brie.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

Incidently, I'm sending a letter apologizing to the British ambassador for our president's boorish conduct.
Tarheel Hawkeye

DrivingMissCrazy said...

Didn't realzie I had stumbled on to the "Rush Limbaugh Is A God" website. Carry on with the if you don't know the facts, attack someone's character, morality, etc. - you're doing a great job! There's always someone out there willing to fall for it. As H.L. Mencken said, "No one ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American public".

Anonymous said...

OMG - Michelle Obama went sleevless? Next thing you know women will be showing thier ankles. Let's show some respect here. Get her in a burka now!

Anonymous said...

Driving Miss Crazy sounds like she's not very happy and has to lash out at Rush and all of us.