June 14, 2004


Remarks by the President at Ceremony for the Unveiling of the Clinton Portraits (The East Room, 6/14/04)

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you, Henry. Laura and I appreciate you all coming. President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home. (Applause.) All who live here are temporary residents; the portraits that are presented today will be held permanently in the White House collection for all the ages. 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. (Applause.)

Laura and I are pleased to welcome members of the Clinton and Rodham family, thank you all for coming. It's great to see Chelsea. The fact that you survived your teenage years in the White House -- (laughter) -- speaks to the fact that you had a great mom and dad (Applause.)

We are pleased that Mrs. Dorothy Rodham is here. Welcome, we're glad you're here. (Applause.) And those two boys you're still trying to raise. (Laughter.) Hugh and Tony, thank you for coming, we're glad you're here. (Applause.) It's good to see so many who served our nation so ably in the Clinton administration. Thank you all for coming back. Thanks for your service to the country, and welcome back to the White House. We're really glad you're here and I know the President is, as well.

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.

Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. He's a man of enthusiasm and warmth, who could make a compelling case and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service.

People saw those gifts very early in Bill Clinton. He is remembered in Hope, Arkansas, and other places along the way, as an eager, good-hearted boy who seemed destined for big things. I was particularly struck by the story of a nun at St. John's School in Hot Springs who decided that Billy Clinton should get a C in deportment. That was a rare grade for the future Rhodes Scholar and President. (Laughter.) So Bill's mother gave the nun a call to see what was wrong. The sister replied, "Oh, nothing much. But let me tell you, this boy knows the answer to every question and he just leaps to his feet before anyone else can." (Laughter.) She went on, you know, "I know he'll not tolerate this C, but it'll be good for him. And I promise you, if he wants to be, he will be President someday."

People in Bill Clinton's life have always expected him to succeed -- and, more than that, they wanted him to succeed. And meeting those expectations took more than charm and intellect -- it took hard work and drive and determination and optimism. And after all, you've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas. (Laughter and applause.)

He won his first statewide office at age 30, sworn in as governor at 32. He was a five-time governor of Arkansas, the first man from that state to become the President. He's also the first man in his party since Franklin Roosevelt to win a second term in the White House. And I could tell you more of the story, but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America. (Laughter and applause.)

At every stage in the extraordinary rise of Bill Clinton, from the little ranch house on Scully Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he and Roger had a wonderful, loving mother. And I am certain that Virginia Kelley would be filled with incredible pride this morning. (Applause.)

And so would Hugh Rodham, Senior. Mr. Rodham did have the joy of seeing his only daughter become America's First Lady. And I know he would not be surprised to see her as she is today, an elected United States Senator, and a woman greatly admired in our country. From the earliest days of her youth in Park Ridge, Illinois, Hillary Rodham impressed her family and friends as a person of great ability and serious purpose. At Maine Township High School South, at Wellesley College, and at Yale Law School, classmates saw her not just an achiever, but as a role model and as a leader. She inspires respect and loyalty from those who know her, and it was a good day in both their lives when they met at the library at Yale Law School Library.

Hillary's commitment to public service continued when she left this house. Listen, New York politics is a serious business -- (laughter) -- it's rough business. It takes an extraordinary person to campaign and win the United States Senate. She has proven herself more equal to the challenge. And she takes an interesting spot on American history today, for she is the only sitting senator whose portrait hangs in the White House. (Applause.)

The paintings of the Clintons are the work of a fine American artist, Simmie Knox. Mr. Knox has rendered portraits of a Supreme Court Justice, a Cabinet minister, a mayor and members of Congress. And today we thank him for putting his skilled hand to the portraits that are about to be unveiled.

More than 40 years have passed since a boy of 16 came here to the White House with a group from the American Legion Boys Nation. On that day in the summer of 1963, Bill Clinton of Arkansas looked into the face of John F. Kennedy, and left the Rose Garden feeling very proud that he had shaken the hand of a President. Today he can be even prouder of decades of service, and effort, and perseverance that brought him back to this place as the 42nd President of the United States.

My congratulations to you both. And now will you to join me on stage for the presentation. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Breeden, for your kind remarks and for your essential work on behalf of the White House and the history of this country.

We're delighted to be here with President and Mrs. Bush today, and Vice President and Mrs. Quayle, all the members and former members of Congress, the members of the Bush administration, and friends of George and Barbara Bush, and especially the family members. We welcome you all here to the White House.

It's impossible to live in this wonderful old place without becoming incredibly attached to it -- to the history of our country and to what each and every one of these rooms represent. In a way, I think every family who has ever lived here has become more and more a part of our country's history, just for the privilege of sleeping under this roof at night. And so, perhaps the most important thing I can say to President and Mrs. Bush today is, welcome home. We're glad to have you back.

I want to say, too, that we thought that we ought to have this ceremony in the East Room. This has always been the people's room. In the 19th century it used to get so crowded at receptions that one of the windows over here was turned into a door so people could get out if they couldn't bear the crowds anymore. There are so many here today, perhaps we should have done it again. But we thought the air-conditioning made it advisable for us to all stay put.

Many of you know that it was in this room that Abigail Adams used to dry the family laundry when the room was nothing more than a brick shell. You may not know that the great explorer, Meriwether Lewis, set up camp here, surrounded by canvas tarps, books and hunting rifles in the day when he was Thomas Jefferson's secretary. John Quincy Adams frequently would come here to watch the sun rise after he finished his early morning swim in the Potomac. That also is something we're considering taking up if the heat wave doesn't break. (Laughter.)

The portraits that we add here today celebrate another chapter to our rich history, and particularly to the rich history of the East Room where they will remain for a few days before they are properly hung. I managed to get a glimpse of these portraits and I must admit that I think the artist did a wonderful job, and we're all in his debt. But I also want to say, President Bush, if I look half as good as you do when I leave office, I'll be a happy man. (Laughter.)

I want to again compliment Herbert Abrams, the artist. He also painted the portrait of President Carter. So, once again, President Bush has set another outstanding example of bipartisanship.

These portraits, as has already been said, will be seen by millions of Americans who visit here, reminding them of what these two great Americans stood for, and for what they have done to strengthen our country. The portraits in the White House are more than likenesses. They tell the story of the promise of one American life, and in so doing, the promise of all American life. They offer a lesson, an example, a challenge for every American to live up to the responsibilities of citizenship.

As Americans look for ways to come together to deal with the challenges we face today, they can do well in looking at the lives of President and Mrs. Bush. They have been guided by the basic American values and virtues of honesty, compassion, civility, responsibility and optimism. They have passed these values on to their family and on to our American family as well. And for that we should all be profoundly grateful.

Mrs. Bush's portrait will hang adjacent to the Vermeil Room on the ground-floor corridor, taking her place in history in the line of America's first ladies. One role of the First Lady is to open the doors to the White House. Mrs. Bush will be in the hearts of Americans forever for the gracious way in which she opened so many doors not just to this house, but to a world of endless possibility through reading. Her campaign for literacy exemplified our country's great spirit of volunteerism, and our primary concern for the potential of every individual American.

Her life of helping others has brought recognition to all those Americans, especially to American women, who have seen unmet needs in their communities and reached out to meet them. We cannot thank her enough.

President Bush's portrait will hang out here in the Grand Foyer, across from the portrait of President Franklin Roosevelt, the Commander in Chief, he served in World War II. It will stand as a reminder of George Bush's basic integrity and decency, and of his entire adult lifetime devoted to public service. Most of all, it will stand as a testimony to a leader who helped Americans move forward toward common ground on many fronts. We see this clearly in the causes George Bush led us in as President -- causes that aimed at improving the lives not just of Republicans, but of all Americans.

He made education a national priority when he hosted the Education Summit in 1989, something I will never forget and always be especially personally grateful for, because he understood that a solid education is essential to every American's ability to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

He led us to a new dedication to service, and extolled the real heroes in America -- the ordinary Americans who every day go about solving the problems of this country in courageous, brave, and quiet manners. The Points of Light Initiative held up the best in America, reminded us of what we can do when we truly work together. And I can say that it was the one thing that he did that he personally asked me to continue when I took this office, and I was honored to do because it was so important and it remains important to the United States today.

He signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, something that has now acquired broad support among people of all parties and all walks of life, and which has made a real difference to the quality of life of Americans who are now making larger contributions to the rest of us. And he supported and signed the Clean Air Act, which is terribly important today in preserving the quality of American life.

He also led our nation and the world in the Gulf War Alliance, in an example of contributions and cooperations in the aftermath of the Cold War that I believe will long be followed.

Finally, since he has left this office, he has continued to be an active and aggressive citizen for what he believed in. He worked here to help us to pass NAFTA, something for which I am profoundly grateful. And just the other day, he earned the gratitude of all Americans who believe in law and order and believe in civil citizenship when he defended the honor and reputation of law-abiding law enforcement officers and government employees. For all these things, all Americans should be grateful to George Bush.

For President and Mrs. Bush, love of country and service to it have always meant the same thing. We honor them both today for their leadership, their character and their concern for their fellow citizens.

On November 2, 1800, the day after his very first night in the White House, John Adams wrote to his wife, "I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof." In the case of George Bush, John Adams' prayers were surely met.

It is my great honor and pleasure now to unveil the official portraits of President and Mrs. Bush. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you very, very much. Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you. And thank you, President Clinton, for those overly generous words as kind assessment of what I and so many here in this room tried to do.

Frankly, I needed those kind words. (Laughter.) I told some friends last night that I'd been going through a bit of an identity crisis, highlighted when Barbara was having her hair done in January. Eddie, her accomplished hairdresser, said, I can hardly believe it, I can hardly believe it. And Barbara said, what is it, Eddie? He said, I can hardly believe I'm doing the hair of the mother of the Governor of Texas. (Laughter.) Barbara said, what about the wife of the former President of the United States? Eddie goes, well, there's that, too. (Laughter.)

So I can't tell you, Mr. President, how much I appreciate your wonderfully kind words. (Applause.) And to Mrs. Clinton, thank you for this superb hospitality. I know I speak confidently for everybody in this room when I thank you for the generosity of your time and of the way this matter here has been set up. To Ann Stock in the Social Office; to the White House Historical Association; and to everyone else, the Bush family -- and again, I confidently speak for all -- are very grateful to you for letting us come and for arranging this warm ceremony.

I look around, and I should not speak for the dean of the Diplomatic Corps, my dear friend, Prince Bandar, but he is here, and I am honored that he took the time to join us here today.

It's hot out, and I've got to be careful about this nostalgic beat, but I see the Photo Dogs -- I miss them. (Laughter.) And I've got to be careful, but as I look around and see Helen and Terry, Mick, and Trudy and Ann, I even miss you -- and I never thought I'd say that again. (Laughter and applause.) I honestly do.

And so I really -- my role here is simply to say thank you, and to say how much, of course, we enjoyed living here and what a joy it is to see the White House staff. I'm asked, what do you miss about Washington, and I say not a lot, frankly. But I miss the White House staff and the people that the Clintons know do so much to make this not just the people's house, but the home for the people that are privileged to live here. And so I thank them. And I thank all of you for turning out today for what, for Barbara and me, is a most nostalgic, wonderful occasion.

And, Herb, I feel very differently than Lyndon Johnson. (Laughter.) Lyndon looked at his first portrait, and he said, that's the ugliest thing I ever saw. (Laughter.) So I'm inclined to think it's pretty darn good. And to you, thank you, and I know Barbara feels the same way. You're wonderful, and we appreciate your work so much, sir. Thank you. (Applause.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2004 1:17 PM

This was a graceful thing to do. Many on the right will blow a gasket over this but tradition is that the Clintons are part of White House history. I don't recall Clinton doing this for Bush Sr or was it a similar low-key event?

Posted by: AWW at June 14, 2004 1:20 PM

To hell with "many on the right"....

I, for one, am tired of gasket-blowing in general. I've seen quite enough of it over the past year, and saw not a little of it over the past decade. It holds no charms for me, and ill serves every one of us.

Fun little game..... Imagine Ted Rall's drawings of Bush. Now imagine that caricature giving the speech we read here today.

Brings a lot of things into focus.

Posted by: Andrew X at June 14, 2004 1:48 PM

OJ - thanks for posting Clinton's presentation of Bush Sr. Bush Sr's remarks are typical of him and remind, like the Reagan funeral this week, that he was a pretty decent man.
I'm assuming that once Clinton finishes his 1 hour+ response to this President Bush you'll post his remarks?

Posted by: AWW at June 14, 2004 2:06 PM

I agree. Anyone who blows a gasket at this presentation doesn't understand what constitutes decency and honorable behavior, and when it is proper to engage in them. If nothing else, it makes the contrast between the real man and the caracature we get from the Left even greater.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 14, 2004 2:56 PM

Bipartisan class.

Posted by: Peter B at June 14, 2004 4:39 PM

So Slick Willie is "42"?

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Posted by: Ken at June 14, 2004 5:17 PM

Actually, Bill Clinton has not joined in with the rest of his party in the general Bush bashing, particularly on the subject of Iraq. Hillary has wobbled back and forth. I think this greeting may make it harder for Bill to come generally unhinged.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 14, 2004 10:19 PM

Clinton gets mauled for a lot of things, but he certainly doesn't want to be viewed like Jimmy Carter (a whining never-was). I have read that they dislike each other more than most.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 14, 2004 10:21 PM


Typical Clinton, he blames Carter for his first loss as governor, because the Marielistas in AR prisons rioted.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2004 11:18 PM
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