When there is a change in leadership in this nation…
On January 20, one president moves out of here.
And a new president moves in.
In between, there are a few hours.
And during those few hours,
A crew comes into this office.
And they do the fastest room makeover you’ve ever seen.
Some things stay.
This desk, the Resolute.
But everything else turns over.
They put in a new carpet.
The new president chooses the style.
Light blue or dark… or goldenrod yellow?
They paint the walls a new color.
Cream or eggshell or taupe?
The new president chooses that, too.
They put in whatever the new president wants.
They also move out some things.
Whatever the new president DOESN’T want.
When Bush worked in this space, he liked western art.
Obama had his own preferences.
So when Obama came in, the western art… it was taken off the walls.
Look, that’s the way it goes.
New presidents have the right to choose their art. That’s fine.
But not everything in this office is art.
Some of what you see in the Oval Office…
Reflects more than the artistic tastes of the president.
Some of it reflects the world view of the president.
Take this piece right here. [Bust of Churchill]
A bust of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
One of America’s greatest friends ever.
Churchill was Great Britain’s leader during World War II.
He saw that war coming.
He warned against appeasement of Hitler.
And when war came, he appealed to America…
To support Great Britain in that great struggle.
In 1941, Great Britain was alone in the war.
America was still neutral…
While Germany’s planes routinely bombarded London at night.
Churchill wrote to President Roosevelt:
“Put your confidence in us.
Give us your faith and your blessing.
And under Providence, all will be well.
We shall not fail nor falter.
We shall not weaken or tire.
Neither sudden shock of battle
Nor the long drawn trials of vigilance
Will wear us down
Give us the tools and we will finish the job!”
Churchill was supremely confident in America.
More confident in America than America was in herself.
Churchill’s mother was an American.
He had visited it…
Gotten to know its people…
And he understood America.
He believed in America.
He knew that America would have to enter the war…
To preserve freedom.
Because he believed that America was a great nation…
…Ready to take its role in the world.
He was like our British uncle.
And he was a lone voice against weakness.
After the war, after victory,
He warned us not to let down our guard.
He gave the “Iron Curtain” speech…
And described the Soviet domination over half of Europe…
…and the moral evil of Communism taking root everywhere.
And his voice…
Like a warning uncle…
Was the voice we needed.
In war… as in peace.
So, after 9/11,
Great Britain’s Ambassador to the United States,
Acting at the request of Prime Minister Tony Blair,
Gave this bust to President Bush…
Not as a gift. But as a loan.
A permanent loan, if we would have it.
A loan as long as we needed it…
A loan as long as was necessary…
To inspire the occupant of this office.
To give him strength.
To ward off weakness.
To remind him, that Britain was always an ally.
And a special friend.
But on January 20, 2009, President Bush left.
President Obama moved in.
And shortly thereafter, the British Ambassador was told:
“We don’t need your Churchill anymore.”
“We’re giving it back…. Here…. Take it.”
The British got the message.
Whatever the lessons of Churchill…
Whatever he said to inspire America…
In difficult times…
In courageous defiance of aggression.
All that was done.
In the past.
America, our new president, might say…
Was ready to move forward.
Not restricted by its past promises…
Nor even by its founding documents.
Or its longest alliances.
I wonder what Uncle Winston might have said…
About being kicked out of the Oval Office.
Perhaps he would have seen it as inevitable.
Churchill was a realist, after all.
He understood human nature.
America, like all free nations,
Goes through periods of vigilance…
Followed by periods of weakness.
Certainty of purpose…
Followed by periods of confusion.
I suppose he would recognize what kind of period we’re in now.
I suppose he would have been resigned to his fate.
“I am just artwork,” he might say.
“Just a chiseled piece of marble…
“And in stony silence, I can do nothing…
“My power depends on the living.
“And if they need me,
“If they want me,
“I’ll be there.
“But if they don’t…
“It matters not…
“Whether I sit on the shelves of the powerful.
“Or on a dusty box in an ambassador’s library.”
And I think Uncle Winston is correct.
It matters little who sits over here (gesture to the shelf).
What matters …
Is who sits over there (gesture to chair).
Our leaders have a right to find inspiration…
…Wherever they find it.
Or somewhere else.
But where they find that inspiration…
Tells us who they are.
What they like.
And what they believe.
A president who values the example of Winston Churchill…
Who values having him in this office…
Is someone who understands history.
Understands what Great Britain means for America.
And what American means for Great Britain.
Someone who looks to Uncle Winston…
Values above all…
Those immortal words of his:
We shall defend our island,
Whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches,
We shall fight on the landing grounds,
We shall fight in the fields
And in the streets,
We shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender.
Of course, to be inspired by these words…
Means you must believe them true today.
Are we under attack?
Is our nation at risk?
Do enemies threaten us in our homes and our streets?
If you don’t think so,
Then the words of Churchill mean nothing to you.
Perhaps our current president thinks…
That the words of Churchill belong to history.
And are no longer relevant.
But just watch.
History has a way of waking us up.
America is like Great Britain in the 1930s.
And the threats are building.
So perhaps the current president thinks America is done with Winston Churchill.
But Winston Churchill is not done with America.
And we’ll need him again soon.
Thanks for watching.
May God bless you, and may God bless this republic.
He was not a man who suffered fools…
And he had a long memory for his enemies.
He had a tenacious loyalty to the truth…
And an unyielding faith in the tide of history.
He believed that freedom was the desire of all mankind.
But that freedom would have to be defended in every generation.
He committed to defend the freedom of the British Empire…
And against the threats of fascism…and communism.