Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Barbara Bush Was Unique, Wasn't She?

I guess the thing that sticks in the memory for me regarding Barbara Bush was how she had spoken about the Hurricane Katrina survivors who had been displaced by circumstance; they were "underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."  It was, if not racist (who knows to what extent she was looking at this through the lens of race?) at least deeply classist. She was privileged, and she could only see silver linings because she did not understand how desperate it was for people to lose literally everything they had. One thing you could say about the former First Lady--she was blunt, and she did not go out of her way to camoflage her meanings. If anything, she was highly articulate and sharp-tongued. It was hard to say she "mispoke" when she held forth.

This isn't the sort of thing one normally thinks about when considering a political wife--the spouse of a president and mother of another. The stereotype of the political "helpmeet" is inoffensiveness, but that was not really Mrs. Bush's style. But, she made her sarcasm and directness work for her, even if she could not always help the fortunes of her spouse or her first-born son with them. 

Without gilding over her flaws, Barbara Bush was a serious and intellegent person. She was not an orthodox conservative, and one of the things she did best was simply be, quite publically, an imperfect figure. She stood in her prematurely white hair and solid frame, and just was herself

She isn't alone by a long shot at being a first lady who I liked better than I liked her spouse, or, for that matter, her son. And while I do wonder how GWB's values reflect how he was raised, I can't help but wonder about her speech to Wellsley in 1990:

For over 50 years, it was said that the winner of Wellesley's annual hoop race would be the first to get married. Now they say the winner will be the first to become a C.E.O. Both of those stereotypes show too little tolerance for those who want to know where the mermaids stand. So I want to offer you today a new legend: The winner of the hoop race will be the first to realize her dream ... not society's dreams ... her own personal dream. And who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President's spouse.
I wish him well!

Her understanding of what it meant to be a mermaid--to do one's own thing and do it with one's heart, to be connected and live so as to have no regrets, resonates with me. Her thing was marriage and children, but she wasn't judging anyone else's thing. That was saying a lot.

And as for her son, who I like far more as a late-blooming painter than I ever did as a president, he summed something up about her so aptly:

Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was,” George W. Bush said. “Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us she was so much more.”

"Our souls are settled because we know hers was."  It was her time, and she went with no regrets and laid her down with a will.

We could anyone of us do worse, couldn't we?

I could wish some of her family anything at all as a political happenstance, but about seeing her life through and the business of burial, I wish them well. She had a great if awkward spirit. She knew educational inequality and illiteracy were such great barriers to success that she strove to see people acheive parity. She was kind of like America's occasionally not enlightened Mee-Maw, whose pronouncements were not right, but she thought you should hear them anyway.

She was unique.

1 comment:

Professor Chaos said...

I take no joy in the passing of Barbara Bush, but there is no need to pretend that she was a nice person.

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