More than any president in recent memory, Bush has not just intentionally faded from the public spotlight but all but disappeared from it.
"George W. Bush has been remarkably, and even strangely silent, even once you respect his sentiment that he did not want to get in Barack Obama's way," said Jillson. "I think part of that is just giving himself time to recover from what had to be an astoundingly difficult close to his presidency."
The politically impassioned issues of that time have faded. The Iraq war is over. The financial sector has stabilized after a devastating crash in late 2008. But the nation is still feeling the cost of the enormous recession, which is Obama's problem now.
Bush was last at the White House in January 2010. That was to join Obama and Bill Clinton in support of Haiti humanitarian relief.
Aides to both Obama and Bush are downplaying the Thursday reunion as a time of politics. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said the former president and first lady are grateful to the Obama and looking forward to catching up with faces from their past, including staff at the Executive Mansion.
"I think there is a community here with very few members that transcends political and policy differences," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He made that comment in the same briefing Wednesday in which he reminded everyone that Obama inherited a huge budget deficit (from Bush.)
Jenna Bush Hager, one of the George W. Bush's daughters, said she was invited for the ceremony and that the day will include a private lunch for the Bushes with the Obamas. She told "Fox & Friends" the day will be a chance to "celebrate his work, 'cause he worked pretty hard so I think he deserves at least a painting."
As to where it will go, she said: "Probably in the very back somewhere. I'm just kidding."
The painting will actually hang prominently in the formal entrance hall to the White House, the Grand Foyer.
AP News Researcher Julie Reed Bell and AP writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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