Obama and the Churchill Bust -Out

Obama and the Churchill Bust -Out


epsteinEver since the BBC and The Dai­ly Tele­graph revealed that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma had sent George W. Bush’s Jacob Epstein Oval Office bust of Win­ston Churchill pack­ing (while retain­ing the bust of Abra­ham Lin­coln),  the media has been abuzz with spec­u­la­tions over the implied symbolism.

Per­son­al­ly I think the media just demon­strates its degen­er­ate irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty to keep fan­ning these non- issues. Fifty years ago a dif­fer­ent media would have pub­lished some thought­ful pieces on the future of the US-UK rela­tion­ship. Not any more.

Plus ça changeplus c’est la même chose….When Pres­i­dent Bush had a Churchill bust in the Oval Office, zealots would occa­sion­al­ly demand its return, since in their view Bush was unde­serv­ing, or was using it to pro­claim him­self anoth­er Churchill. (In fact, he was sim­ply an admir­er, like most of us.)

You can’t win: Now that Barack Oba­ma has returned Churchill’s bust, we are encour­aged to protest its removal. But Barack admires Abra­ham Lin­coln, and it seems to me per­fect­ly under­stand­able that he should have the bronze totem of his choice in his office.

Mean­while, James Kirkup report­ed in the March 2nd Tele­graph that British Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown was pre­sent­ing the Pres­i­dent with “a first edi­tion of Sir Mar­tin Gilbert’s sev­en-vol­ume biog­ra­phy of Win­ston Churchill.” (“Sev­en vol­umes” was a typo; Sir Mar­tin was short Vol­ume V, but Chartwell Book­sellers in New York City helped him out and the full eight vol­umes were deliv­ered.) So now, effec­tive­ly, “Win­ston is Back” in the White House, and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has arguably more Churchilliana than Pres­i­dent Bush had!

For­give me for mak­ing light of this, but the Pres­i­dent seems to have more press­ing mat­ters to con­cern him—as do we. So for the nonce (with acknowl­edge­ment to the Dai­ly Telegraph’s Wash­ing­ton bureau), here is my pas­tiche on a future “Bust Out” which might very well erupt four years hence. Will the media please file this for future use:


A bust of Abra­ham Lin­coln, loaned to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma from the State of Illi­nois art col­lec­tion after his inau­gu­ra­tion four years ago, has now been for­mal­ly hand­ed back. But when Illi­nois offi­cials offered to let the new Pres­i­dent, Bil­ly-Bob Cal­houn, retain the bust for his own term of office, the White House said: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Where has the Lin­coln bust gone, devo­tees of the 16th Pres­i­dent are won­der­ing? Inves­ti­ga­tors have now tracked it to the pala­tial Spring­field, Illi­nois res­i­dence of Rod Blago­je­vich, who was rein­stat­ed as Gov­er­nor in 2011 after the State Supreme Court ruled that his 2009 impeach­ment was uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, fol­low­ing Blagojevich’s two-year cam­paign for redemp­tion on Oprah and Lar­ry King.

Lin­coln is a major hero to most politi­cians, but not Mr. Cal­houn, who prefers to quote Win­ston Churchill, author of the famous alter­na­tive his­to­ry, “If Lee Had Not Won the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg.”  Today, a bust of Win­ston Churchill, retrieved from stor­age at the British Embassy in Wash­ing­ton, has replaced Lincoln’s in the Oval Office.

Bil­ly-Bob Cal­houn is not among the Amer­i­can politi­cians who praise Lincoln’s Civ­il War lead­er­ship. It was Lin­coln, remem­ber, who sent Gen­er­al William Tecum­seh Sher­rman to march through Calhoun’s home state of Geor­gia to defeat the Con­fed­er­a­cy. Among Con­fed­er­ates alleged­ly impris­oned by the fed­er­al regime was one Aloy­sius Beau­re­gard Cal­houn, the President’s great-great grandfather.

Ever deter­mined, Gov­er­nor Blago­je­vich says he will offer anoth­er evi­dence of Illi­nois’ esteem to the new Pres­i­dent when he meets Mr. Cal­houn in Wash­ing­ton this month. One state sen­a­tor has sug­gest­ed that, giv­en Pres­i­dent Calhoun’s inter­est in the Civ­il War era, Mr. Blago­je­vich should offer a bust of Stephen A. Dou­glas, Abra­ham Lincoln’s lead­ing oppo­nent dur­ing the 1860 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion.

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