a smooth-talking horse thief fleeing a lynch mob

Scott Horton writes at Harper's (as does Timothy Noah at Slate) about the history of a painting Bush brought with him from Texas and hung in the Oval Office:

Bush's memo to his staff said this:

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. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.

(Charles Wesley wrote the hymn "A Charge to Keep I Have," which Bush used as the title for the "autobiography" that Mickey Herskowitz and Karen Hughes wrote for him.)

Horton and Noah both quote from Jacob Weisberg's new book The Bush Tragedy (which was preceded by this Salon article by Sidney Blumenthal):

[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors.

Horton concludes:

Bush's inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob. It seems a fitting marker for the Bush presidency.

Also appropriate to mention is the fact that there are 360 days and 2 hours remaining in the Bush occupation, at which time he will very much resemble a smooth-talking horse thief fleeing a lynch mob.

update (10:42am):
Credit should go to Jonathan Hutson, who discussed the painting ("Horseshit! Bush and the Christian Cowboy" at Talk 2 Action) in May 2006--a year before Blumenthal wrote his piece at Salon.


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