The presidents’ club is a small one and tradition dictates a gracious reception when a predecessor comes back to the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait.
There may also be a traditional speech, judging from comments that President Barack Obama made for George W. Bush today and the speech Bush delivered for Bill Clinton in 2004.
“President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home,” Bush said to Bill and Hillary Clinton back then.
“President and Mrs. Bush, welcome back to the house that you called home for eight years,” Obama said today.
“All who live here are temporary residents,” Bush said in 2004.
“It’s fair to say that every president is acutely aware that we are just temporary residents,” Obama said eight years later.
“And so beginning today, the likenesses of President William Jefferson Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will take their place in a line that began with George and Martha Washington,” Bush said.
“And today, with the unveiling of the portraits next to me, President and Mrs. Bush will take their place alongside the men and women who’ve built this country and those who worked to perfect it,” Obama said.
The rhetoric hasn’t always been so kind. While Bush has made a point of staying largely away from the political arena in his retirement, he often serves as a foil for Obama, who blames Bush for contributing to the worst recession in more than seven decades.
Today, Obama focused on the positive. Using the occasion to once again mention the killing of Osama bin Laden under his watch, Obama said the victory was a shared one. His first call, he said, was to Bush, once he knew American troops were out of harm’s way.
Obama also had some unique things to say to his predecessor. For one: “You also left me a really good TV sports package,” he said. “I use it.”
Roger Runningen contributed to this post.