Talking to the White House Portraits

President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will return to the White House tomorrow for the hanging of their official portraits. While the portrait hanging ceremony traditionally has been an occasion for the current president to honor his predecessor, the event this year has raised eyebrows because President Barack Obama has spent much of his time in office bashing the man whose face will soon grace the White House walls.

If Obama were smart, he would take the opportunity to learn a lesson from his predecessor. Four years ago, then-President Bush welcomed former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton back to the White House for their portrait hanging. “President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home,” Bush said at the outset, and he meant it. What followed was an effusive and warm speech that made Clinton feel at home.

As you might know, my father and I have decided to call each other by numbers. (Laughter.) He’s 41, I’m 43. It’s a great honor to — it’s a great pleasure to honor number 42. We’re glad you’re here, 42. (Applause.) The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man. As a candidate for any office, whether it be the state attorney general or the President, Bill Clinton showed incredible energy and great personal appeal. As chief executive, he showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit the Americans like in a President. Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead — and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer.

The speech (written before my years as a speechwriter at the White House) is as magnanimous, graceful and wise as the man who delivered it. It’s worth reading in its entirety, and here’s hoping Obama takes the time to do so before the ceremony tomorrow.