The Slipper Tongue: The Ironic Story About Bush's Favorite Painting

George W. Bush associated the title of his 1999 autobiography, A Charge to Keep, with a favorite work of art loaned to him by a childhood friend, Joseph I. O'Neill III, shortly after his inauguration as governor of Texas. Joseph 'Spider' O'Neill said the lead cowboy in the painting reminded him of Bush. 'W' happily accepted the identification.

George Bush brought the painting with him to Washington and it occupied a prominent place in the talking points he gave visitors to the Oval Office during his years in the White House.

Bush loved to identify with the determination he saw in the illustration which, to him represented the resolute circuit riding preachers who spread the Methodist faith across the Allegheny region of nineteenth century America.

The painting was originally commissioned in 1916 by The Saturday Evening Post which gave the job to William H.D. Koerner, a popular illustrator of magazine short stories in early twentieth century America. In 1912, Koerner had illustrated author Zane Grey's famous 'Riders of the Purple Sage'. In later decades, W.H.D. Koerner explained that the inspiration for his work came directly from an immersion in the characters and story for which the illustration would be used. He said that in order to draw the man the author describes he had to concentrate on the character until it comes alive and can see him in his mind's eye.

The painting was later used in other stories, including, in 1918, 'A Charge to Keep' in Country Gentleman magazine, a tale about a timberland inheritance and the responsibility that came with it to protect the land from capitalist robber barons who aggressively sought to exploit its lumber assets. But the character that lived in William Koerner's 1916 illustration was the one that rode in the 1916 Saturday Evening Post story, a tale called 'The Slipper Tongue'.

For this painting, Bush would proudly announce: "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". The painting is actually an illustration of a smooth-talking horse thief on the run, risking the welfare, and perhaps the life, of the horse he rides in a mad dash up a rugged slope, trying to escape the justice following close behind.

As with so many other positions embraced by our forty-third President, it might have been better had George W. Bush been a little less certain of his own point of view and a little more inclined to include a touch of intellectual curiosity and deliberate reflection in his decision making process.

Bush's perspective on the painting exemplifies the decision making style that characterized his leadership of our country. Starting from little research and continuing through little examination, he associated his work in public life with the reckless attempt of a smooth talking horse thief desperate to escape from justice.

"This is us," George W. Bush would say, claiming a semblance to the illustration originally titled, 'Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught'.

This seems a fitting marker for the Bush presidency. Bush has consistently exhibited what psychologists call the "Tolstoy syndrome." That is, he is completely convinced he knows what things are, so he shuts down all avenues of inquiry about them and disregards the information that is offered to him. This is the hallmark of a tragically bad executive. But in this case, it couldn't be more precious. The president of the United States has identified closely with a man he sees as a mythic, heroic figure, who in fact is a wily criminal one step out in front of justice!

To see pictures of the Slipper Tongue painting, references, documentation and a video based on this article please visit The Coyote Report

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