Picture this: Obama to host Bush, the man he scorns

Portrait of ‘the last guy’ to be unveiled

Talk about awkward.

When President Obama hosts former President George W. Bush at the White House on Thursday to unveil his predecessor’s official portrait, he’ll pay tribute to the man he has blamed lately for everything short of an outbreak of the flesh-eating virus.

The war in Iraq? An unnecessary and costly diversion that was Mr. Bush’s fault, according to Mr. Obama.

The worst recession since World War II? The president says Mr. Bush and the GOP are to blame.

Soaring deficits? Mr. Obama’s mantra is that he inherited the red ink from the Republican.

The Wall Street collapse? See “Bush, George W.”

Loss of America’s prestige in the eyes of the world? Mr. Obama has laid that accusation on Mr. Bush’s doorstep, too.

At a fundraiser in California last week, Mr. Obama used Mr. Bush as his foil to raise more money for his re-election campaign. The president began by criticizing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for planning “bigger tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” deep cuts in funding for education and Medicare, and deregulation of the banking and insurance industries.

“But that’s not new,” Mr. Obama told the crowd. “That was tried, remember? The last guy did all this.”

His audience laughed and applauded at the punch line delivered at Mr. Bush’s expense.

Indeed, Mr. Obama is building his re-election campaign on the theme that Mr. Romney would take the nation back to what are characterized as the disastrous policies of the Bush era. In the 2008 presidential race, Mr. Obama also repeatedly warned that a victory for Republican John McCain would be like a third Bush term.

In spite of all this, when “the last guy” visits the White House for the hanging of his portrait, those who know Mr. Bush best say it will be a moment to set aside partisanship and to reflect on the accomplishments of the man and his presidency, and of former first lady Laura Bush. Her portrait will be unveiled, too.

“This event is about portraits, not politics, and President and Mrs. Bush — and many of us who served in their administration — are looking forward to the honor of being back in the White House,” said Karen Hughes, a former top adviser to Mr. Bush who now works as global vice chairwoman of Burson-Marsteller public relations.

Asked whether the meeting will be awkward for Mr. Obama, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “Not at all.”

“I know the president looks forward to it,” Mr. Carney said. “There are differences without question between his approach and the approach and the policies of his predecessor.”

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