Dear Mitt Romney: Here Is The Churchill Bust [UPDATED]
Dear Mitt Romney
It will have come to your attention that not all of us in the British Isles are particularly taken with the way you’ve conducted yourself during your visit to our shores for the 2012 London Olympics. Whatever the right or wrongs of it, you’ve managed to rub some of us up the wrong way.
You arrived with the promise that you would rekindle some relationship you imagine once existed between our two countries based on a regime which held uneasy sway over only part of our territory before the Norman Conquest in 1066 transformed our society irrevocably. This mystified most of us, because we don’t identify ourselves with an era so long past, and indeed a lot of us carry only a fraction of Anglo-Saxon blood, if any. We are a mongrel nation, for sure, and none the worse for it.
You promised to come and listen, and to avoid criticism of your current president while abroad. However, repeatedly during your colorful sojourn here, you’ve expressed sentiments such as these:
“I’m looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again,” Romney told a crowd of about 250 people at a Thursday evening fundraiser at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel following a day of meetings with current and former British leaders.
This takes up a refrain that has been current on many rightwing blogs and comments sections throughout the World Wide Web over the past few years, here repeated by CBS News:
The bronze torso of Churchill had been loaned to President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and although it was due to be returned when Obama took office, British officials offered to extend the loan for another four years. Obama declined, and replaced the Churchill bust with one of President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican figure in history Obama admires.
The same article helpfully explains:
Romney’s idea of putting the bust back in the White House first surfaced in an article in The Telegraph, a British newspaper. In the story, two unnamed advisers said Romney would like to pay homage to Churchill if he is elected, with one saying the move would be “symbolically important.”
As a British person, I’m not much exercised over the question of what ornaments are displayed in the White House, having other more pressing priorities, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. I recognize Churchill’s contribution to the war effort in 1939—45, but do not idolize the man—indeed, once the war was over, my forebears voted him out of office PDQ in favor of an administration that sought to build a land “fit for heroes,” including a National Health Service (which you can probably relate to), so I’m presumably not part of the audience you seek to address with such a pledge.
I know you’re short of campaign planks at the moment. You can’t talk about your time at Bain because it’s embarrassing, you can’t talk about your time organizing the Salt Lake City Olympics because it’s embarrassing, you can’t talk about your term as Governor of Massachusetts because it’s embarrassing, so having proven singularly ill-fitted to resetting the US—UK relationship over the past couple of days, I sympathize that you don’t have a lot to work with. If I dig into that Telegraph article (you’ll no doubt know about the Telegraph—you’ve featured on their pages quite a lot of late) linked by CBS, I see this:
Mitt Romney would restore ‘Anglo-Saxon’ relations between Britain and America
Mitt Romney would restore “Anglo-Saxon” understanding to the special relationship between the US and Britain, and return Sir Winston Churchill’s bust to the White House, according to advisers
Now, I don’t know where you found these advisers, but I think you need to give them a sound talking to.
You see, I hadn’t done my research either, and I’d assumed that the Churchill bust had been returned to our authorities as so many had claimed, shrugged my shoulders and gone “So what?” But now I find that I was sorely misled. I know you’ve barely been closer to the White House than I have, but here’s some information for you from its blog which may be helpful:
Lately, there’s been a rumor swirling around about the current location of the bust of Winston Churchill. Some have claimed that President Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and sent it back to the British Embassy.
Now, normally we wouldn’t address a rumor that’s so patently false, but just this morning the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer repeated this ridiculous claim in his column. He said President Obama “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.”
This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.
News outlets have debunked this claim time and again. First, back in 2010 the National Journal reported that “the Churchill bust was relocated to a prominent spot in the residence to make room for Abraham Lincoln, a figure from whom the first African-American occupant of the Oval Office might well draw inspiration in difficult times.” And just in case anyone forgot, just last year the AP reported that President Obama “replaced the Oval Office fixture with a bust of one of his American heroes, President Abraham Lincoln, and moved the Churchill bust to the White House residence.”
In case these news reports are not enough for Mr. Krauthammer and others, here’s a picture of the President showing off the Churchill bust to Prime Minister Cameron when he visited the White House residence in 2010.
President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the private residence of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Hopefully this clears things up a bit and prevents folks from making this ridiculous claim again.
Since my post on the fact that the bust of Winston Churchill has remained on display in the White House, despite assertions to the contrary, I have received a bunch of questions—so let me provide some additional info. The White House has had a bust of Winston Churchill since the 1960’s. At the start of the Bush administration Prime Minister Blair lent President Bush a bust that matched the one in the White House, which was being worked on at the time and was later returned to the residence. The version lent by Prime Minister Blair was displayed by President Bush until the end of his Presidency. On January 20, 2009—Inauguration Day—all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence. The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day.
I do hope you didn’t repeat this urban myth to Prime Minister David Cameron during your visit to No. 10, as you would have placed him in the awkward position of having to call a guest either a liar, or plain misinformed, or a fruitcake, and he’s been brought up better than that (at great expense, I might add).
I’m sorry if this revelation means you will have to find another talking point, but I’m sure you would wish to avoid further embarrassment by retracting your pledge, modifying it to the scale of a simple rearrangement of household trappings, or just quietly abandoning it altogether from now on.
After all, I’m sure you don’t want to look like an idiot gulled by chitchat on scurrilous blogs or chain emails of dubious provenance—or worse, an outright liar. You’re running for president, for Pete’s sake!
UPDATE: Looking around the intertubes, some folks are either wilfully or genuinely confused by the details of this daft story at the moment. Jake Tapper has the clearest explanation so far:
Is the Churchill Bust Controversy A Total Bust?
In February 2009, the British Embassy told The Telegraph that the bust “sits in the palatial residence of ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald … A British Embassy spokesman said: ‘The bust of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W Bush, from the Government Art Collection in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship. It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the President was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009.
The new President has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the Ambassador’s Residence.” Moreover, White House curator William Allman was quoted in a January 2010 story at CBSNews.com seeming to confirm the (incorrect) information.
“Some Britons took offense when Winston Churchill’s bust was replaced with King’s,” the story reads. “But the decision to return the Churchill bust to the British – it had been presented by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to Bush on loan – had been made before Obama even arrived. ‘It was already scheduled to go back,’ Allman said.” So what gives?
Like a plot twist in a sitcom, IT TURNS OUT THERE ARE TWO CHURCHILL BUSTS!!!!!
The one in the White House Residence was a gift to the White House from the British Embassy during the Nixon administration.
The other one was loaned to President George W. Bush by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Says James Barbour, Press Secretary and Head of Communications for the British Embassy, “The bust of Sir Winston Churchill, by Sir Jacob Epstein, was lent to the George W Bush administration from the UK’s Government Art Collection, for the duration of the Presidency. When that administration came to an end so did the loan; the bust now resides in the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington DC. The White House collection has its own Epstein bust of Churchill, which President Obama showed to Prime Minister Cameron when he visited the White House in March”
That other Churchill bust dates back to the Nixon administration, it turns out.
Which means Mitt Romney will have to either back down, or double down: “I want BOTH busts!!!!” Don’t be surprised.