Sunday, April 22, 2018

About Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush, wife of former US President George H.W. Bush, was buried today. That will end the talk about her, at least until her husband dies. But some of the reactions to her death haven’t been entirely edifying or ennobling. Because she held no office herself, and wasn’t a public or political leader, some of the reactions have seemed a bit over the top. She was what she was.

Like everyone else, Barbara Bush was certainly not perfect. She was a fierce defender of and advocate for her family, and that frequently got her into trouble. But some on the Left launched into strong condemnation of her, branding her racist. An English professor in California went on a Twitter tirade against Bush, earning strong rebuke and suggestions that she may face disciplinary action.

The racism allegations are based primarily on two things. The one I’ve seen the most often is that in 2005 she said of the people evacuated from the arena in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina , “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” At the very least, those remarks were tone-deaf, insensitive, out of touch, and maybe classist. But were they racist? Decide for yourself, but the fact that most of the people she was talking about were black wouldn’t by itself seem to make the remarks automatically racist, at least not without something showing that that’s what she meant.

The other main piece of evidence was what she said about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill in her memoir. She said that Thomas was a “good man” who had been “smeared” by Hill. She wrote:
“Is this woman telling the truth? I do not mean to sit in judgment, but I will never believe that she, a Yale Law School graduate, a woman of the 80s, would put up with harassment for one moment, much less follow the harasser from job to job, call him when she came back to town and later invite him to speak to her students at Oral Roberts University.”
Was that racist? She was defending a black man against allegations made by a black woman, so if anything the remarks might maybe be called sexist, but calling them racist seems to me to be painting them with a little too broad a brush. One would think she was entitled to express her opinion, shared by many other Republicans, without automatically being labelled a racist for it.

I met Barbara Bush once. It was at a Republican presidential forum held in Rosemont, Illinois in 1979, in the run-up to the start of the 1980 presidential campaign. I met her in the Bush hospitality suite, standing beside her husband who was running for president at the time (Reagan, the eventual nominee, was a no show). They both seemed nice enough, pleasant, too, but I couldn’t make any character assessments based on that brief interaction.

What I do know is that with the possible exception of Nancy Reagan, I’ve never actively disliked any First Lady, though, admittedly, I liked some more than others (and I was too young to form an opinion about either Lady Bird Johnson or Pat Nixon, and I don’t remember Jackie Kennedy as First Lady at all). So, I didn’t dislike Barbara Bush at that time, or since. I’ve seen no convincing evidence that she was racist, but maybe there’s something I haven’t seen. The fact she was the mother of George W. doesn’t make her evil, either: He was president, not her, so how can she be responsible for what her adult children did? I’m including Jeb in that. It seems to me that disliking her sons, their politics, and what they did in their elected positions doesn’t mean that their mother should be despised. So, it certainly doesn’t seem to me like she was evil incarnate. She was what she was.

While I’m absolutely not dancing on Barbara Bush’s grave, I’m also not exactly mourning her death, either. I never voted for her husband or her sons, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly a fan of the dynasty.

However, it was self-evident that she and her husband were thoroughly in love for more than 70 years. Actually, it was obvious that Nancy and Ronald Reagan clearly were, too. I can despise someone’s politics without despising them, and I can note the human qualities—like love for their spouse—that they showed.

Similarly, I don’t think that the California professor should be harshly punished for her Twitter tirade. I disagree with her, I don’t think she proved her case (or helped it very much, either), but I don’t get why she shouldn’t be entitled to express her clearly strongly held views. I also can’t help but note the irony in the fact that so many of the people condemning her and demanding she be fired have condemned the Left whenever a rightwing speaker is criticised for similar rants. There’s no difference—especially when the right hasn’t also gone after the obnoxious rightwinger who is a close friend of the current occupant of the White House. That friend called her names, and yet he hasn’t faced the same level of opprobrium as that professor has (I’m sure the rightwing just hasn’t heard about it yet, and they’ll attack him any minute now…).

So, Barbara Bush is gone. Some will mourn that, others, apparently, will rejoice. Personally, I just note her passing, her place in history as the wife and mother of US Presidents, her strong opinions (sometimes badly expressed), and her clear love for her husband and family.

Barbara Bush: She was what she was.

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