Has America's even- tempered new president already ruffled feathers in the land that spawned Borat and Benny Hill? That's certainly how the spiky British press responded after the White House sent back to the British Embassy a bust of Sir Winston Churchill that had occupied a cherished spot in President Bush's Oval Office. Intended as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, the bust was a loaner from former British prime minister Tony Blair following the September 11 attacks. A bust of Abraham Lincoln—Obama's historical hero—now sits in its place. A White House spokesperson says the Churchill bust was removed before Obama's inauguration as part of the usual changeover operations, adding that every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.
But the British press, as is its wont, smells a snub. The Telegraph speculated that British diplomats' pulse rates would soar, while The Times of London wondered if a shadow had been cast over the special U.S.–U.K. relationship. A spokesperson for the British embassy, though, threw cold tea on the notion, pointing out British politician David Miliband was the first foreign minister to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Maybe it's no surprise that Obama wouldn't want Churchill watching over his shoulder. After all, it was Churchill who, in 1952, ordered a crackdown on the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule in Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland. Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was labeled a subversive during the uprising and spent months in detention.
Churchill expert Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute thinks the average Briton will be unfazed by the bust's return, saying that folks across the pond have always been puzzled by American fondness for Churchill. Richard Langworth of the Churchill Center has offered another unidentified piece of Churchilliana that may pique Obama's interest but has yet to receive a response from the White House. For now, the president will have to content himself with gazing at the holograph copy of the Gettysburg Address in the guest bedroom.