January 13th, 2009

Wonder What Senator Rich Tarrant Would Have Said (Now With Intensely Satisfying, Folds Like a Cheap Suit Late Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Full props to Bernie, for keeping an eagle eye out for creeping historical revisionism, which is all around us as Bush heads for the exits. The caption beneath Bush’s portrait in the Smithsonian, newly hung, currently makes mention of “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Bernie’s take? “The notion . . . that 9/11 and Iraq were linked, or that one ‘led to’ the other, has been widely and authoritatively debunked.” And Bernie calls in a snarky way for the caption to be substantially rewritten, which is pretty much all VDB asks of our Senators, really.

The portrait in question

Intensely Satisfying Late Update, Tuesday, 9:20 am:

Rarely does VDB get this much satisfaction this fast: the Smithsonian has already responded to Bernie’s letter, and it’s fair to say that they’ve folded like a cheap suit. A very polite cheap suit, but still. Sanders’s office received the following letter under the official Smithsonian seal:

Office of the Director
January 12, 2009

The Honorable Bernard Sanders
332 Dirksen Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Sanders:

Thank you for your letter of January 7, 2009, regarding the label which accompanies the National Portrait Gallery’s recently acquired portrait of President George W. Bush.

Our label was not intended to imply that there was a causal connection between the attacks that occurred on 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq. Our intention was to remind viewers of the portrait that the listed events were defining episodes in the Bush presidency, within the limited space of an object label. I appreciate your concern, however, about the words “led to.” We will revise the label and delete the words “led to.” I would welcome the opportunity to escort you on a personal tour of the National Portrait Gallery, and will call your office in hopes that we can arrange that.

Thank you for your interest in the Smithsonian Institution.


Martin. E. Sullivan
Smithsonian Institution
National Portrait Gallery