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Not Watching the State of the Union Address 29 Jan 2008

Posted by Jessa in Politics.
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I’ll admit up front: I hate State of the Union Addresses. I find them fundamentally unwatchable. First off, the “state” is always “strong”. It wouldn’t matter if the US was being sucked down into the seventh circle of hell, the president would still say it was strong. But at least they could find a new adjective.

And don’t even get me started by the rounds of applause after every friggin’ sentence. The thing is long enough as it is.

I tried watching last night’s address for a little while – a bit like trying some food that you haven’t liked to make sure that you still don’t like it. And yep, I still don’t like it. But I didn’t have to wait too long for an unintentionally hilarious moment:

All of us were sent to Washington to carry out the people’s business. That is the purpose of this body. It is the meaning of our oath. It remains our charge to keep.

Emphasis mine. If you don’t know why that’s funny, I’ll give you a hint:

George W. Bush is famous for his attachment to a painting which he acquired after becoming a “born-again Christian.” It’s by W.H.D. Koerner and is entitled A Charge to Keep. Bush was so taken by it, he took the painting’s name for his own official autobiography. And here’s what he says about it:

I thought I would share with you a recent bit of Texas history which epitomizes our mission. 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.

So in Bush’s view (or, perhaps I should say, faith) the key figure, with whom he personally identifies, is a missionary spreading the word of the Methodist Christianity in the American West in the late nineteenth century.

Here’s the kicker:

So Bush’s description of “A Charge to Keep” struck me as very strange. In fact, I’d say highly improbable. Now, however, Jacob Weisberg has solved the mystery. He invested the time to track down the commission behind the art work and he gives us the full story in his forthcoming book on Bush, The Bush Tragedy:

[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”

So Bush’s inspiring, proselytizing Methodist is in fact a horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob.

Seems fitting.

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