I mentioned the other week that I had pre-ordered President George W. Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, and now that I’ve finally devoted some time to it I can wholeheartedly endorse it. This compilation of more than ninety Wounded Warriors painted by their former Commander in Chief is very touching and well done. You will be inspired by their stories and you will gain a greater understanding of the painter/author through this work.

Most of the men and women in the book befriended Bush at one of the annual golf tournaments or mountain biking events he hosts for service personnel and it is clear that he is humbled and honored by their friendship. The more I look at the paintings he has done, the more I can see the time and effort Bush put into capturing each individual’s unique character, and the more I admire this greatly maligned and casually dismissed world leader.

The title, Portraits of Courage, is clearly a play on, or an homage to, Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book by then Senator John Kennedy, which tells the stories of past senators who made unpopular decisions they believed to be right and suffered for it. I think it’s safe to suppose that Bush sees himself in the same vein as the politicians Kenney admired; as a man who will be vindicated by history. It is often said that history depends on who writes it but it is equally important who reads it and what they choose to focus on in the records.

For example, when assessing Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, will future generations recall comedian Bill Maher ridiculing the President for comparing Saddam to Hitler? “Saddam Hussein is Hitler like Oasis was The Beatles.” Or will they look to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who also compared Saddam’s brutality to the genocide of the Nazi’s and directly told Bush, “Mr. President, you have a moral obligation to act against evil.”

When parsing out blame for the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will people fifty or a hundred years from now place more weight on the photo of Bush looking down on the disaster from Air Force One, allegedly detached and unsympathetic to the sorrow below:

Bush Katrina airforce one

Or will they find the sea of unused school buses to be more telling about the failure of local officials to act in the first place?


No one can be certain how these interpretations will play out but it does appear that Bush’s post-presidential years will play a large role in any final assessments. Only the most cynical and unrealistic critics can discount the level of commitment that Bush has demonstrated to the troops who sacrificed so much for his decisions. One does not spend hours, weeks, months, and years, getting to know people and painting their portraits as a PR stunt or a passing fancy. Clearly, Bush believes in the choices he made, yet he cares deeply about those who paid the price for them. And, unlike JFK, who merely supervised the writing of his book on courage – leaving the bulk of the text to be penned by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen – W. has put his heart into every brush stroke and word of the courage he depicts.

Negative reviews of Bush’s book, or more so, complaints about his public, “rehabilitation,” thanks to the book and recent positive press, keep popping up in my Google newsfeed. For many left-leaning pundits the temptation to slip into the same old mantras (e.g. “Bush lied,” “Bush is stupid”) is simply too great. Thankfully, we need not follow their emotional lead.



5 thoughts on “Portraits of Courage

  1. i’m reminded of a seinfeld joke when jerry complained about watley (BRYAN CRANSTON!!!) coverting to Judaism for the jokes. “this offends you as a jew?” “it offends me as a comedian.” his paintings are serviceable. i think his observational skills are good, but he needs to work on brush technique. wait… isn’t this the kind of criticism he’s gonna get on the book?


    1. Admittedly, I’m no expert on painting but the work seems good to me, particularly for taking up the art in his sixties and having no history or doing any artwork before that. I’ll defer to your expertise on brush technique.


  2. My first thought on seeing reference to President Bush’s was that the title was cynically chosen to reference Profiles in Courage. Your correspondent’s argument for a more worthy interpretation is entirely convincing and that requires a rethink of my views o on the former President. I feel a wee bit shabby actually.

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  3. Good piece on W’s art. but JFK did write his book with help from Sorensen, The old claim of just “supervising” is not accurate. Sorensen told me he laughed whenever he read that he wrote most of the text. It was all JFK’s writing with Sorensen helping as a wordsmith, which he was good at. And with the layout of the book. But it was all JFK’s words.


    1. What I’m finding of his public statements seems to contradict what you say Sorensen said to you. For example: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/sorenson_admits_profiles_in_courage_role/

      “In his 2008 autobiography, Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote that, while Kennedy provided the theme and supervised its production, Sorensen had written most of the book.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profiles_in_Courage

      Can you point to any public statements that you feel are more credible than these?



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