Commentary Magazine


Topic: Laura Bush

We Miss Her, Too

It is not only George W. Bush who’s looking better in retrospect to many Americans. Consider this:

Former first lady Laura Bush said the U.S. must stand with Afghanistan and bear in mind its long investment in the country. In an exclusive interview with The Hill, the former first lady weighed in on the future of Afghanistan, saying Congress and the American public should continue to support the country.

“What I hope is that we will stand with the people of Afghanistan. … It is not easy … Afghanistan was destroyed,” she said. “What they need to bear in mind is our investment already. … No one wants it to go back to the way it was. … Everyone wants peace there. What it has to be is a just society and a just democracy.”

She knows of what she speaks. As the report notes:

The former first lady, who visited Afghanistan three times during her eight years in the White House, has long held an interest in the affairs of Afghanistan and the plight of women and young girls there in particular. She sits as an honorary adviser on the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and has worked with the Women’s Initiative at the Bush Institute in Dallas since leaving the White House in January 2009.

Laura Bush never suffered the drop in popularity that her husband did. She managed to be both above the political fray and to do meaningful things. Oh, that her successor could do even one of those things.

It is not only George W. Bush who’s looking better in retrospect to many Americans. Consider this:

Former first lady Laura Bush said the U.S. must stand with Afghanistan and bear in mind its long investment in the country. In an exclusive interview with The Hill, the former first lady weighed in on the future of Afghanistan, saying Congress and the American public should continue to support the country.

“What I hope is that we will stand with the people of Afghanistan. … It is not easy … Afghanistan was destroyed,” she said. “What they need to bear in mind is our investment already. … No one wants it to go back to the way it was. … Everyone wants peace there. What it has to be is a just society and a just democracy.”

She knows of what she speaks. As the report notes:

The former first lady, who visited Afghanistan three times during her eight years in the White House, has long held an interest in the affairs of Afghanistan and the plight of women and young girls there in particular. She sits as an honorary adviser on the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and has worked with the Women’s Initiative at the Bush Institute in Dallas since leaving the White House in January 2009.

Laura Bush never suffered the drop in popularity that her husband did. She managed to be both above the political fray and to do meaningful things. Oh, that her successor could do even one of those things.

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Leave Us Alone

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

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Was It the Lavish Vacation?

Politicians of both parties fall prey to gaffes of the “lives of the rich and famous” variety. But liberals, very rich ones, are especially susceptible to flaunting their wealth because they can’t imagine that their motives and dedication to the poor and the underprivileged would be called into question. After all, they support every social engineering project of the liberal welfare state, insist that taxes (well, other people’s taxes) be increased and redistributed, and attend so many important charitable functions in each-other’s magnificent homes. Hence we have the John Kerry “park the yacht elsewhere” gambit, which was quickly reversed when the voters thought it peculiar that Kerry didn’t want to pay $500,000 in taxes that he would have be owed, had he docked his floating palace in the Commonwealth’s waters.

Then there is Michelle Obama. After a rocky campaign, she’s gone on a charm offensive that puts to shame her husband’s Jewish “make nice” outreach. She grows vegetables. She exercises with children. No more do we hear about the America she was never proud of before Hillary went down the tubes in the primary. (And really, what’s not to like about a country that elevates your husband to the White House and confers queen-bee status on you?) But there, too, the bloom is off the rose: “The first lady’s rating, a combination of the very positive and somewhat positive answers, has fallen from 64 percent in April ’09 to 55 percent in January 2010 to 50 percent today.” Byron York thinks it is the vacation that may have done it:

Mrs. Obama’s personal popularity is lower than former First Lady Laura Bush’s ratings in the same poll by the same pollsters. In December, 2001, 76 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mrs. Bush. In February 2005, that number was 65 percent. In October 2006, with her husband’s job and personal approval ratings plummeting, Mrs. Bush’s personal approval rating was 56 percent.

Michelle Obama received the first negative press of her time in the White House in recent weeks during her vacation trip to Spain. Critics questioned why the first lady chose to go to a glitzy, high-priced resort at a time when unemployment is high and many Americans are suffering economically. The White House pushed back, first giving reporters the story that Mrs. Obama made the trip to comfort a friend who had recently lost her father and then stressing that the first lady is so popular that she will be in great demand by Democrats campaigning for House and Senate seats this November. But the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers suggest that Mrs. Obama’s popularity is falling, not rising.

It may be that the lavish trips (maybe the date night in New York was over the top?) aren’t the only thing at work. Perhaps, unlike Laura Bush, who — feminists, hold on to your hats — carved a separate identity and established a pleasing persona, which survived her husband’s ups and downs, Michelle has not. She is the perfect distillation, as is her husband, of the elite left (don’t tell me she was raised as middle class; she was educated in the Ivy League and lived a life of privilege from Hyde Park on). She and he are two peas in a pod. And right now the public seems increasingly fed up with both of them.

Politicians of both parties fall prey to gaffes of the “lives of the rich and famous” variety. But liberals, very rich ones, are especially susceptible to flaunting their wealth because they can’t imagine that their motives and dedication to the poor and the underprivileged would be called into question. After all, they support every social engineering project of the liberal welfare state, insist that taxes (well, other people’s taxes) be increased and redistributed, and attend so many important charitable functions in each-other’s magnificent homes. Hence we have the John Kerry “park the yacht elsewhere” gambit, which was quickly reversed when the voters thought it peculiar that Kerry didn’t want to pay $500,000 in taxes that he would have be owed, had he docked his floating palace in the Commonwealth’s waters.

Then there is Michelle Obama. After a rocky campaign, she’s gone on a charm offensive that puts to shame her husband’s Jewish “make nice” outreach. She grows vegetables. She exercises with children. No more do we hear about the America she was never proud of before Hillary went down the tubes in the primary. (And really, what’s not to like about a country that elevates your husband to the White House and confers queen-bee status on you?) But there, too, the bloom is off the rose: “The first lady’s rating, a combination of the very positive and somewhat positive answers, has fallen from 64 percent in April ’09 to 55 percent in January 2010 to 50 percent today.” Byron York thinks it is the vacation that may have done it:

Mrs. Obama’s personal popularity is lower than former First Lady Laura Bush’s ratings in the same poll by the same pollsters. In December, 2001, 76 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mrs. Bush. In February 2005, that number was 65 percent. In October 2006, with her husband’s job and personal approval ratings plummeting, Mrs. Bush’s personal approval rating was 56 percent.

Michelle Obama received the first negative press of her time in the White House in recent weeks during her vacation trip to Spain. Critics questioned why the first lady chose to go to a glitzy, high-priced resort at a time when unemployment is high and many Americans are suffering economically. The White House pushed back, first giving reporters the story that Mrs. Obama made the trip to comfort a friend who had recently lost her father and then stressing that the first lady is so popular that she will be in great demand by Democrats campaigning for House and Senate seats this November. But the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers suggest that Mrs. Obama’s popularity is falling, not rising.

It may be that the lavish trips (maybe the date night in New York was over the top?) aren’t the only thing at work. Perhaps, unlike Laura Bush, who — feminists, hold on to your hats — carved a separate identity and established a pleasing persona, which survived her husband’s ups and downs, Michelle has not. She is the perfect distillation, as is her husband, of the elite left (don’t tell me she was raised as middle class; she was educated in the Ivy League and lived a life of privilege from Hyde Park on). She and he are two peas in a pod. And right now the public seems increasingly fed up with both of them.

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George W. Bush: “I am concerned about isolationism”

I’m in Dallas, Texas, attending the George W. Bush Institute’s “Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges.” There will be various discussions involving dissidents from five countries rated “not free” by Freedom House: China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia, as well as two countries rated “partially free” by same: Venezuela and Colombia.

Laura Bush just offered some introductory remarks and singled out the Burmese regime for jailing democrats and enacting a “systematic campaign of rape and abuse.”

President Bush then spoke frankly about the disturbing change in the country’s attitude toward freedom and democracy abroad. “I am concerned about isolationism,” he said. It was a reifying moment to hear the president so closely associated with the promotion of freedom and human rights state plainly that we must “fight off isolationism,” which is making a return in the public consciousness and policy circles. None of the “false choice,” gray-area equivocation that we’ve come to hear day in and day out over the past year. “If we allow isolation to become a dominant philosophy we forget our own past,” he said. America’s long-active role as engine and projector of freedom abroad is indeed being forgotten with news of each cynical “reset” and every panicking ally.

I’m in Dallas, Texas, attending the George W. Bush Institute’s “Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges.” There will be various discussions involving dissidents from five countries rated “not free” by Freedom House: China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia, as well as two countries rated “partially free” by same: Venezuela and Colombia.

Laura Bush just offered some introductory remarks and singled out the Burmese regime for jailing democrats and enacting a “systematic campaign of rape and abuse.”

President Bush then spoke frankly about the disturbing change in the country’s attitude toward freedom and democracy abroad. “I am concerned about isolationism,” he said. It was a reifying moment to hear the president so closely associated with the promotion of freedom and human rights state plainly that we must “fight off isolationism,” which is making a return in the public consciousness and policy circles. None of the “false choice,” gray-area equivocation that we’ve come to hear day in and day out over the past year. “If we allow isolation to become a dominant philosophy we forget our own past,” he said. America’s long-active role as engine and projector of freedom abroad is indeed being forgotten with news of each cynical “reset” and every panicking ally.

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Laura, the Burmese Need You

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

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Happy Mother’s Day From McCain

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

Why is John McCain doing an ad with his mother? The most obvious reason why his 96 year-old mom will be trotted out from time to time is to combat the age issue. Mental clarity and physical vigor don’t fade fast in the McCain family–that’s the underlying message.

But another reason for the ad is to try to lighten his image. That’s a common way campaigns use wives and other relatives. The ever-teary George H.W. Bush and Laura Bush helped convince voters that George W. wasn’t one of those hard-hearted Republicans. Likewise, the poised Cindy and McCain’s mom are there to convince voters that there is a softer and funnier side to McCain. And that’s in large part why McCain is a regular on Letterman and Daily Show.

Do these efforts work? Perhaps at the margins, but the real impact that close relatives (yes, Bill and Michelle, we mean you) can have is a potential negative one: the gaffes they make reinforce negative images about the candidate. If they can actually help solve a problem, that’s just gravy.

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How Thoughtless!

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

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Tempest over Tibet

Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

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Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, they’re rapidly losing their ability to intimidate Western leaders over Tibet. All of them recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan homelands, but increasingly few of them are willing to shun the Dalai Lama. In addition to Merkel, Australia’s John Howard and Austria’s Alfred Gusenbauer met with him over the course of the last few months. Canada’s Stephen Harper will receive the famous Tibetan this month.

Chinese diplomats are ramping up their threats, but few are listening. Nobody believes that human rights dialogues with Beijing are effective, and Wu’s trip to the United States was more for China’s benefit than ours. It’s a shame that China won’t attend the Berlin meeting on Iran, but that will be rescheduled—and in any event Chinese attendance would only complicate matters.

Who cares if the Chinese authoritarians huff and puff? They need the West more than the West needs them. So let them threaten all they want. Why should we prevent the Chinese from creating a diplomatic disaster for themselves?

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