The Unintentional Humor Of 'A Charge To Keep'

As president, George W. Bush loves to talk to those who visit the Oval Office about the rug on the floor. (He claims to have tasked Laura Bush with

As president, George W. Bush loves to talk to those who visit the Oval Office about the rug on the floor. (He claims to have tasked Laura Bush with helping come up with a design that communicated “optimistic person” to those who saw it.)

But as governor, Bush wasn’t excited about his carpet; he was excited about a painting: “A Charge to Keep.” In 1995, he issued a memo to his Texas staff, describing the painting, by W.H.D. Koerner in 1916, which he kept on his office wall. Bush told his aides:

The reason I bring this up is that the painting is based upon the Charles Wesley hymn “A Charge to Keep I Have”. I am particularly impressed by the second verse of this hymn. The second verse goes like this: “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will”

This is our mission. This verse captures our spirit. […]

When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.

When one looks at the painting, you see a man on horseback — who actually looks a little like Bush — apparently leading a group of missionaries. It worked for Bush on a couple of levels: the title comes from one of the president’s favorite Methodist hymns, the man in the picture looks like him, and he related to the missionary work depicted in the painting.

He liked all of this so much, Bush used the title for his autobiography (which he admittedly did not write). He even brought the picture with him to Washington upon taking office.

The funny part is the truth about the painting: "Bush’s inspiring, proselytizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob."


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