George W. Bush shows off paintings, offers Obama advice

Tom Pennington

LOS ANGELES -- Former President George W. Bush showed off his paintings and his granddaughter and poked fun of his post-White House years on the "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on Tuesday.

The 43rd president said that he was inspired to take up painting after reading a Winston Churchill essay. When he hired an instructor for weekly lessons, he said he told her "There's a Rembrandt trapped in this body. Your job is to find it."

Mr. Bush shared paintings of his dog Barney and a stray cat that he adopted and named Bob ("so I can remember how to spell it when I got older") and said painting has changed his life. He presented Leno with a portrait of the comedian, prompting Leno to say: "I can't make fun of him now."

When asked what caused a blocked artery that led to his hospitalization in August, the 67-year-old Bush joked that it was because he "didn't behave that well when I was younger and I might have smoked some."

Mr. Bush has kept a mostly low profile since exiting office in early 2009 while the country was in two wars and struggling with an economic crisis.

"It's hard for some to believe, but I think eight years in the spotlight's enough," he said.

Leno asked him if he's concerned about his legacy and his place in history and Bush joked that historians are still focused on George Washington, not necessarily George W. Bush.

"My attitude, if they're still writing biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn't need to worry about it," Mr. Bush said.

"I'm also very comfortable with the fact that it's going to take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not. And therefore I'm not too worried about it," he said.

As for advice for President Obama, Mr. Bush repeated his post-presidency mantra of staying out of the political fray - "I don't think it's good for the country to have a former president criticize his successor" - but added, "You have to believe in what you're doing, first and foremost."

"I relied upon my faith, my family helped a lot and I had a good team around me and did the best I could do," Mr. Bush said.

He briefly weighed in on the 2016 presidential race when Leno brought up Mr. Bush's brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., who's considered a potential candidate.

He should "run for president if he wants to," the former president said. "He'd be a great one."

Former first lady Laura Bush also appeared on Leno's couch to discuss the couple's charitable causes. They also showed the strand of pearls Bush gave her for their 36th wedding anniversary and a video clip of their first grandchild, nicknamed Mila.