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January 16, 2010

Your Turn: Bush Clinton Obama Haiti

3 Presidents Haiti quake.jpg

Can Bush really help, or his public involvement mostly symbolic, and even a face-saving gesture?

Besides the all-too-blatant sense of offering Bush a Katrina do-over, what the camera reflects when it focuses on Bush — especially without the Presidential seal for him to stand behind — is his fundamental inability to take anyone or anything seriously enough.

Your thoughts on “the whole picture”?

(photo: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images / January 16, 2010. caption: President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush announce plans for a Haiti earthquake relief fund to be run by the ex-presidents.)

  • Karen H.

    Jesus, how to treat the whole picture when you can’t get past the smirk on Bush’s face? That man never operates from a position of safety.

  • Ursula L

    Shrub seems to be very much “not there.” He’s sort of smiling, which seems inappropriate for an event about a natural disaster of this magnitude. He’s looking away from Obama, rather than paying attention to what is going on. Most interestingly, you can see Clinton’s hand on Shrub’s shoulder, as if holding him in place, or guiding him through the motions.
    And Clinton’s expression – certainly distress abut the severity of the situation. But you can’t help wonder how much is stress about knowing that his relief efforts will be hampered by having to stage-manage the pretense of Shrub’s involvement.
    It is a sharp contrast to the shared focus you see in the pictures of Clinton and the elder Bush working on tsunami relief, such as here:

  • matt

    playing dress up?
    the color of bush’s suit nearly matches the color of the presidential podium.

  • James

    I think it’s commendable that former President Bush is joining the efforts on behalf of the Haitian people. I was no fan of his, but is it possible to put the snark and cynicism aside for just a few days? I’m willing to give the man credit for trying to do what he can. How about you?

  • CF2K

    I don’t believe in commending people for doing things they ought to do, particularly when it involves the very most powerful among us. More to the point, given that the purpose of this site is visual analysis, is it not odd to demand a) that we ignore Bush’s seeming inability to compose himself–i.e., to not smirk–during a moment of such gravity, and b) that we not attempt to get at the sense which this picture transmits into the media sphere?

  • Tony

    Here I am, it’s all about me.

  • Serr8d

    President Bush: Best of a sorry bunch. Clinton, a screwup and a failure; Obama, destined to be a monumental failure.
    Just wait and see.

  • CF2K

    And right on cue, the apologist chimes in with nothing to offer.

  • Norm

    I haven’t read the above comments on purpose. I know someone has already beat me to this comment but I want to make it anyway.
    Obama is bringing Bush on board because of the demonstrated disaster response expertise he demonstrated during Katrina and because he is so beloved by the world community donations will surely follow his request for them.
    This photo should become an icon of the failing Obama administration. I had great hopes for Obama but he is simply a continuation of the Clinton and Bush administrations. Profits for corporations. War for the world. No money to spend on infrastructure, healthcare, education, housing, etc for America’s citizens.

  • Norm

    Serr8–That was snark!

  • James

    Can Bush really help, or his public involvement mostly symbolic, and even a face-saving gesture?
    Well, look, who says a “mostly symbolic” gesture isn’t going to “really help”? Doesn’t it send the signal that we can put aside the partisanship, the bitter rivalries, and for a short time bridge the political divide for the sake of something bigger than right-left, Repub-Dem American politics. I mean IF Bush’s involvement helped in that endeavor, and if he did nothing else, wouldn’t that “really help”? If it even served to stave off another Obama-bashing Liz Cheney appearance on cable TV for a week while humanitarian concerns took precedence, wouldn’t THAT “really help”?
    Your thoughts on “the whole picture”?
    In that regard, I think that this shot is more interesting. It’s probably not provocative enough of politics for your tastes, but nevertheless.
    Obama, Bush, Clinton: U.S., Haitian unity: The Swamp

  • pragmatic realist

    Recall: Bush Sr. got rid of Aristide. Clinton brought Aristide back. Bush Jr. got rid of Aristide again. Obama ignored the whole mess until now. They are all in this up to their necks. They should be ashamed to show their faces.

  • jtfromBC


  • mon_oeil

    But Serr8d, what do you have to say about the image, which is what BAGnewsNotes is all about.

  • mon_oeil

    President Obama appears to be genuinely interested in a bipartisan, unified image, he looks appropriately somber faced with such a daunting task. Bill Clinton looks rather devastated, while George W. Bush, well, looks as he has always (see below). Somehow the fact that this catastrophe falls upon a nation of black people seems to add to the especially heavy burden of President Obama. It seems that so many in the spotlight of 2009 were black and this is how 2010 starts.
    A few images for comparison:
    Bush in Louisiana:
    Bush at FEMA:

  • mon_oeil

    I agree, and it does not add anything to the discussion about images.

  • jlb

    Shrub’s looking for the birthday cake . . . .frankly, I agree with the comment below that they should all be ashamed to show their faces, but it is a slap in my face, as an American, that Bush would even be included in this context – much less embraced.

  • Ursula L

    In a way, this seems to be a good image of Obama’s attempts at bipartisanship. He makes an effort to work with Democrats and Republicans, and the Republicans treat it as a joke.
    Bipartisanship only works if both sides are interested in cooperating.

  • Apple


  • Norm

    Bush looks like a smirkin’ piece of goat shit. Is that better?

  • boxcar

    Ah, but i think we all agree with the sage Serr8d!
    IF I WERE a fix-newsed-palin-thumpin-limbaugh-ned flanders, i would make the exact same statement.
    Translation: Bush is the worst of the three, Clintin rocked while getting screwed!, and Obama is gonna blow your minds.
    And that is what the truth is. Pretty scary hun, teabagger?

  • Gasho

    Of the three, Bush is the focus of this image and most of the opinions and comments above. He’s the one the eye turns to – his story has cut the deepest and we can see it still playing itself out.
    He’s happy. Let’s face it.. he’s being trotted out onto the world stage in a positive (enough) light. He’s being brought on to help — of course he’s delighted.
    He thinks he’s done it! He thinks he’s fooled them all !! This is the proof. Karl was right — give it just a little while and go out there and have one positive photo-op and the whole thing will vanish. If you get hauled in front of the cameras just once and NOT IN CHAINS FOR THE WAR CRIMES YOU COMMITTED, then you’ll survive and they’ll all forget what you did. Look at his face – he thinks he’s at this moment. Clinton’s got his back and Obama’s clearly not after him for the laws he broke.
    That being the case, it could equally be said that this photo is the death of our Constitution. It proves that if you’re properly connected, you can blatantly break the supreme law of the land, over and over, get caught doing it… and go uncharged. This man is officially above the law, which means the law itself is dead.
    Obama has a good heart. He is attempting to show us a set of symbols that are powerful in their ability to heal us. Right here, he’s got Black and White, Democrat and Republican leaders – the left and right, etc. working together. But I really think he’s missing the boat by not bringing the former administration to justice. War crimes are the most serious, and knowingly allowing a war criminal to remain untried is morally indefensible.
    Torturer. Murderer. Liar. War Criminal. Yes, it’s G.W.Bush in this image that draws the eye. He’s like a karmic black hole, that guy.

  • PumaJ

    I am certain there has to be some sort of “deep” politics behind Bush’s involvement. I can’t imagine any other reason for him to have been asked to participate. When I listened to his brief comments, I just burst out laughing. The man hasn’t improved in his public speaking ability at all since leaving office. He still looks and sounds just two steps short of being a complete dufus.
    I remain convinced that President Obama is intrinsically the most sincere of the three men. Yet, even he must find the correct “dance” steps when certain political tunes are called. Nonetheless, I do admire his continued attempts to work in a bipartisan way. I suspect that we (the U.S.) will need to be involved in Haiti’s long term recovery for quite sometime. It is my thought that the establishment of this “Clinton Bush Haiti Fund” will play a critical role in raising the moneys necessary for the task. Another thought I had whilst watching these three men speak is that this opportunity for current and past U.S. Presidents to work together for a common good cause is not a model seen elsewhere in the world. I believe it is an important example to set. Especially the working together of previous Presidents who’ve represented political parties having strongly opposite points of view.

  • Mum

    President Obama felt obligated to ask him. Otherwise, I’m sure that Bush would have been more than happy to stay home and clear brush or count the cash for his “library.” I would willingly put aside any snark with regard to Bush if he wasn’t always strutting around with that smirk on his face. Let’s just hope he gets out of the way of any real work that needs to be done.

  • Mum

    Sorry to deviate from the topic at hand, which is the photo, but you haven’t really been paying attention if you think that President Obama is a continuation of Bush (or even Clinton, for that matter). He’s done a lot in a year, and I fully expect to see much more in the seven years to come. (Yes, I am that confident.)

  • Nemo

    The photo illustrates Obama’s high valuation of middle of the “roadness”, compromise, reaching out, mediate, try to please everyone. He continues to do these things even when he does not have to. For chrissakes, what do you need that walking disaster known as Bush for? Why do you need to practise bi-partisanship for the Haiti disaster? Just make sure that the right people are in place to dothe job and get out of the way. Do you need Bush to drum up corporate donations.

  • Mum

    Bush’s expression does suggest delight, but I think it’s the delight of a sociopath, which you somewhat suggest in your third paragraph.
    I do agree that Obama has a good heart, but let’s not give up on him yet with regard to “bringing the former administration to justice.” Building a case takes a while, and building a case against a former occupant of the office you currently hold is a delicate process. If this country was not a republic (or a democracy, if you will), Obama could have had Bush tried, convicted, and put to death in a millisecond.

  • Jack

    When I heard Bush was involved my first thought was “WTF?” Your analysis of the photo nails it.

  • Two Dishes

    Smooth move by Bill getting that jovial but superior condescending hand on the shoulder!
    It’s like a much subtler version of dueling elk smashing their antlers together.
    May the best tall (but not too tall), confident (but not too confident) alpha male win…

  • Norm

    The wars continue. Torture and secret prisons continue. Illegal ssassinations by drones, involving many deaths of innocent civilians, including children continue, The Patriot Act and Military commissions acts continue. American citizens can be arrested on Obama’s orders, held without formal charges, or access to a courtroom indefinitely-just like under Bush. Obama refuses to meet his obligation under US law and America’s treaty obligation under the UN Convention against Torture, and investigate and prosecute the Bushies for war crimes. Indeed Obama is now a war criminal. We see no meaningful banking/financial industry reform. His so called health care reform is to force people who can not now afford insurance to buy insurance from private insurance companies with no price controls, while taxing so called “Cadillac” benefits plans like the one my union negotiated for it’s members. He is doing nothing meaningful to create jobs. He is a failure at leading. He is just another corporate controlled spineless Democrats. I voted for him. And I know that if the Republicans had the White House and majorities in the Senate andd House they woulkd have walked all over the democrats this past year.

  • Norm

    He’ll never go after Bush. he’s guilty of many of the same war crimes that Bush is.

  • Clem Guttata

    When I look at the picture I notice that Bush and Obama are looking toward the same point in the distance, and Clinton is like an older brother trying to draw Bush’s attention back to the focal point of the occasion–the man at the podium. This photo opportunity is just the beginning of a long process where Clinton will mentor Bush on how to serve as an ex-president with dignity.
    I also notice the picture is oddly composed with a lean to it. The uneven podium evokes a listing ship. The direction sends the eye away from Obama and towards Bush. Bush’s suit seems strangely poorly fitting, like maybe he’s lost weight recently. Obama is the only one with a lapel pin, another part of the COC/politician uniform missing from the ex-presidents.
    The current administration is fortunate to have the two most recent two term presidents available to apply themselves to this task. Clinton and Bush are probably equally glad to have something meaningful to do.

  • g

    Gosh, Obama sure dropped the ball in 2009 by not working to effect regime change in Haiti. It’s not like anything else was on his plate these last 12 months.

  • Glichte

    Where’s his Pledge Pin!!!
    Nobodyz got Pledge Pins!!

  • Stella

    My dark-skinned president stands in a position of command beside two southern American boys and so much of the commentary focuses not on their falures, but on his. Haven’t any of us outgrown the infantile need for instant gratification?
    I see an illustration of why I vote for Democratic representation – their capacity for empathy.

  • aimai

    Obama was very clear on why he brought bush in–because there were going to be massive rumors flying around that the obama administration planned to profit from the click throughs of americans trying to donate money. Rush and Beck have both made this argument–that the president would be “harvesting” names and addresses for nefarious purposes. And also that the donors don’t “know where the money is going” or what is being done with it. Bringing bush on board was a transparent but perfectly reasonable act by Obama to stifle this absurd criticism by making the relief effort bipartisan.

  • Gasho

    Thank you, Mum. I’m glad to be reminded that the slow reaction has to do with the fact that we are not a country where one dictator follows another after a bloodbath. There are many amazing things about our democratic process and peaceful transitions are certainly one of them.. even if it means we have to wait for “building the case”. I get frustrated at the speed of the process and the fact that it’s taken our country as a whole so long to wake up to the awful things he’s done. Patience.
    It will be very upsetting and damaging, though, if people ultimately get forgetful and let him skate on his many many serious crimes.

  • Zoey & Me

    The suit . . . look at Bush’s suit . . . look closely. Did he sleep in it or is it just me? The other two at least look like Wall Streeters.

  • wisewebwoman

    Bush: Damn, I forgot my codpiece
    Clinton: Down, boy, down.
    Obama: Send in the clowns.

  • joeradish

    Deep cynicism. President Bush’s presence slaps Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson. Regardless of what he does, his appearance might allow some conservatives who were conflicted about their response Haiti, a cover so they can do what’s right. Hopefully, he raises money and and otherwise stays out of the way. I mean the American people nearly elected him president twice after all.

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