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Obama’s Presidential Portrait Finally Hangs In The White House, But It Is Not Greatest Portrait

GUEST COMMENTARY - Barak Obama’s presidential portrait will finally hang in the White House after the traditional, official ceremony.

While not decreed in law, such as the peaceful transition of presidential power as defined in the Constitution and the extremely powerful moment of the inauguration, this is a time honored event of our day, respectful, and a very meaningful moment when the current president invites the immediate former president, and their wife-the first lady, to return to their temporary home for this honor. 

It is a time of reflection on the passing of power, and the passing of time. It is a reminder of the tone and tenure of both past and president presidents. This event is a tremendous reminder to the nation that power the United States is power that is always in transition, and not locked into the rule of a monarch, or tyrant, or dictator.  

The moment is a stark reminder that the democracy of this nation depends upon the respect of others from both the opponent in the election, and the current winner.  

Obama, as the immediate next president, continued this needed tradition when he invited former President George W. Bush and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, to the unveiling of the Bush’s portraits to be hung, and still hanging, in the White House. 

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were gracious hosts. The Bushes were gracious guests back into their one-time home. Former President Bush was gracious, and very funny with cutting remarks.  

The ceremony took place without rancor, honor was given, the portraits hung, and the country and world moved on. 

The one tremendous difference in the unveiling of Obama’s presidential portrait was was the ceremony of the unveiling of the portraits was not done under the presidency of the immediately following president. That would have been former President Trump. Trump never held this time honored, respected, needed for the country’s democracy ceremony. He never hosted this event which is a bright light on the greatness of the United States. By not holding the unveiling or the presidential portrait ceremony of the immediate past president, Trump lessened the greatness of this nation. 

But, no matter whose presidential portrait hangs now, and will hang in the White House, granted our democracy continues with this tradition, none will equal the portrait of President George Washington, the nation’s first president should anyone need to be reminded. 

The unsurpassed greatness of Washington’s presidential portrait is not because of its painter, Gilbert Stuart, though it is an outstanding painting. This portrait in unsurpassed in its greatness because of what Washington as the nation’s first president did, and what he did not do.  

When George Washington became president of the nation, The United States was a new, raw, fledgling, uncertain republic in uncharted territory. The mighty British and their army was defeated by Revolutionary Army led by Washington.  

George Washington was the unanimous victor in the 1789 presidential election, and was unanimously reelected president in 1792. 

It was no wonder Washington became president. The new republic, finding its way in the New World, and the rest of the World, saw, rightfully, in Washington a strong and trusted figure. His strength of character and integrity are what this nation needed then. And, if the old tale is true, George Washington did not lie, going back to his boyhood when he confessed to wrongfully cutting down a cherry tree. 

But it is not these qualities by themselves which gave George Washington his greatness, a greatness which has passed down undiminished through every president after him.  

George Washington shall always be unsurpassed as the greatest president of this nation from its inception to its end, and long may that day be far, far into the future, because of what he refused to do. Washington as the new leader of a new nation of states hoped to continue an experiment in freedom for this nation and its “free people.”  

 [This idea of freedom for the nation and its people must countered that “free people” of that time only included white men of a certain age. Those unjust restrictions placed onto those who at that time were not a “free people” have been slowly eroded. Outside of white men of a certain age were, and are, people of equal rank not included in the freedoms of those times: the Indigenous of this continent; women; people from Africa, Asia, South America; people of darker skin; people of various sexual preferences; people of various religions; and all who over the years of this nation have needed to fight for their freedoms. Freedoms have been gained, but time can march backwards. The hard fought gains in these all encompassing freedoms are threatened today. But, as the founding fathers, through all their faults, show us, this fight goes on.] 

When George Washington’s second term of president was winding down, many in this nation at that time wanted him to remain in power. His election would have been assured as long he would have wished. Some wanted him to become the king of the new nation. 

But, Washington knew that for all of his work and dedication to fighting for new ideas in creating a new nation by winning the Revolutionary War, and not present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence because he was fighting the British to keep the signers safe; as the President of the 1787 Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia; helping to create the first government of the United States with it Executive, Electoral and Judicial Branches; and as the first president executing the hard work needed to make the branches of government functional, were actions and duties all based upon the ideas that he was not king, tyrant, dictator. He fought for, and believed that the blood and sacrifice to form this nation could only be honored if he followed and fulfilled the ideas that everyone in the new nation, even the president, were created equal.  

Washington could not be a hypocrite and deny the foundations of the new nation he helped form. He could not make himself king, because a republic cannot exist under tyrants, and he knew it would be treason if he proclaimed himself king.  

George Washington rejected vanity, tyranny, destructive egotism, and declined to serve more terms as president, or as tyrant, king, dictator. This monumental act serves as a guide to all following presidents to step aside once their time as president is over, ended either through term limits or through the vote of the people. Washington instructs all following presidents to accept the consequences of elections, and not go down the road of tyrants creating division, anger, confusion with lies, when anyone seeking, or re-seeking the office of president loses. 

He stepped aside for the good of this country, and that act reverberates to this day and in days to come if, as the saying goes, we can keep this republic.

(Matthew Hetz, a native to Los Angeles, is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His works can be found at https://www.matthewhetz.com. Also, he is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College, and is dedicated to improving transit and the environment.)