Columns » Hightower

Cowboy George, horse thief


We've learned the hard way over the past seven years that George W. lives in his own fantasy world where reality is whatever he wants it to be and facts are not allowed to intrude.

We should have known this from the start of his White House tenure; he practically painted a picture for us. He showed his predilection for delusion by hanging his favorite painting in the Oval Office. It's a 1916 scene by W.H.D. Koerner titled "A Charge to Keep," and, in Bush's own words, it depicts "a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail."

In Bush's head, that rider epitomizes George's own political journey, dashing ahead against steep odds and naysayers (embodied in the artwork by two horsemen following the daring hero). Indeed, many visitors have commented that the hard-charging character bears a remarkable resemblance to George himself.

Over the years, Bush has added a Christian morality tale to the painting, declaring the artist based it on a Methodist hymn, and that the indomitable horseman is really a circuit-riding minister rushing passionately ahead to spread the religion of Methodism (which happens to be George's own chosen faith).

It's all very inspiring, except it's not true. Koerner painted the work to illustrate a Saturday Evening Post short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue." It's about a slick-tongued horse thief, and Koerner's painting, far from illustrating bold moral leadership, depicts the horse thief frantically fleeing a lynch mob.

So when Bush says that he sees himself in the painting, he might inadvertently be revealing the truth.

Let's see: George W., horse thief. Works for me. Jim Hightower is the author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. For more, visit

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