President Obama on Thursday twisted the knife he'd stuck in his predecessor's legacy, reminding former President George W. Bush that he left the economy a mess and al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden alive when he left the White House three years ago.
"The months before I took the oath of office were a chaotic time," Obama told a crowd of mostly former Bush administration officials and members of the Bush family, including Bush's parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.
They had gathered in the East Room of the White House for an official ceremony -- one that has traditionally excluded politics -- unveiling the portraits of the 43rd president and his wife.
"We knew our economy was in trouble, our fellow Americans were in pain, but we wouldn't know until later just how breathtaking the financial crisis had been," Obama continued, raising some eyebrows among the Bush crowd seated just a few feet away.
Obama stopped short of blaming Bush for the recession, something he has done repeatedly on the campaign trail.
Instead, Obama couched his remarks with praise of the former president, thanking Bush for going out of his way "in the middle of that crisis ... to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible."
Briefly lightening the mood, Obama jokingly thanked Bush for leaving him a "really good sports TV package" on the White House television.
A few minutes later, a grinning Bush took the podium and the friendly crowd erupted in loud applause, with some shouting and whistling for the former president.
"Behave yourselves," Bush drawled playfully. Turning to first lady Michelle Obama, he said, "Madame First Lady, thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging." The crowd again roared its approval.
Bush thanked the members of his administration who were in attendance and introduced his wife, former first lady Laura Bush.
"It is my privilege to introduce the greatest first lady ever," he said, then paused to acknowledge his mother. "Sorry, Mom," he quipped.
As for his portrait, Bush suggested to Obama that when he is "wandering" the White House halls wrestling with tough decisions, that he will "now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, 'What would George do?' " Obama laughed.
The unveiling of a former president's portrait has for decades brought together presidents past and present. The portraits are commissioned by the White House Historical Association, but each president and first lady get to choose an artist and decide how they will be depicted -- their position, their clothing, the background scene.
Bush chose to include, in the background of his portrait, a painting called "A Charge to Keep," after which he named his 1999 memoir, "because it reminds me of the wonderful people with whom I was privileged to serve," he said.