Saturday, November 08, 2008

Laura Bush

The following is from an op-ed piece in the Sunday, November 1 New York Times. A handful of contributors, including Ari Fleischer (who is kind) and Scott McClellan (who is not)--both former Bush press secretaries--talk about what they will miss about the Bush presidency. Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote the excerpted, is a liberal and a novelist. She wrote a fictional account of Laura Bush and her marriage to George W.

During the last eight years, when I’ve mentioned to people that I’m completely fascinated by Laura Bush, most think I’m kidding. They see her as a traditional wife and mother, a gracious and well-mannered conservative. And while this might, depending upon whom you ask, be an admirable description, it doesn’t tend to prompt fascination. Oh, I say, but there’s so much more to her!

Among my favorite facts: She spent her 20s working at ethnically diverse, low-income schools and was a Democrat until she married George Bush at the age of 31 — after knowing him just 12 weeks. As first lady of Texas, she’d eat at hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants, shop at Wal-Mart and fly Southwest Airlines to visit friends. In the White House, in addition to organizing literary events that featured writers who have publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies, she has been far more politically involved than people realize — traveling to Africa and the Middle East to raise awareness for, respectively, AIDS and breast cancer, and advocating for the opposition leader of Myanmar, who has long been under house arrest.

Of course, what’s most intriguing to Democrats like me are the suggestions that Mrs. Bush might still be considerably less conservative than her husband: She has said that she does not think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Asked in 2004 whether she and the president have gay friends, she told a reporter, “Sure, of course. Everyone does.” And earlier this year, Mrs. Bush spoke publicly of her admiration for Hillary Clinton’s “grit and strength.”

I will miss Mrs. Bush not only for keeping me guessing but also for seeming like an intelligent and compassionate presence in a White House not widely recognized for its intelligence or compassion — for being the one person in there whom I’m pretty sure a lot of us would like even more if only we knew her better.

— CURTIS SITTENFELD, the author of the novel “American Wife”

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