Barbara Bush: Our Queen Mother
Barbara Bush passed away on April 17, 2018 at 92. She is one of only two women that served as First Lady of the United States and mother to the president, the first being Abigail Adams. President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush were married for 73 years, the longest marriage is presidential history. Barbara Bush’s dedication to her family, her country, and her faith is admirable across the political divide as significant persons of both major political parties have expressed their heartfelt condolences to the Bush family. She was a wife, friend, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and role model for feminism as she chose her role within the Bush family and within the Bush Political Dynasty.
Barbara Bush had a reputation for speaking her mind, having a quick wit, and expecting others to follow the rules. This latter point earned her the nickname “The Enforcer” inside the Bush family. Even while her husband was running for president in 1980, Mrs. Bush expressed her pro-choice views and even stated that she supported the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, albeit in her own manner of refusing to contradict her husband while laying out her thoughts at the same time. Prior to son JEB Bush’s presidential run in 2016, Mrs. Bush said that there should be no one else by the name of Bush in the White House yet she whole-heartedly supported her son on the 2016 campaign trail. Expressing her love for Bill Clinton, though she didn’t like his politics, and discussing the difficulty in watching her husband and first-born son get attacked as president only endeared her more to the public.
That Mrs. Bush’s unfailing loyalty to her family was evident even as she publicly opposed some Republican Party platforms (pro-life, homosexuality) illustrates her strength as a matriarch not only of her own family, but of as the matriarch of the United States as well. In her Wellesley College commencement address in 1990, Mrs. Bush drew great applause from the crowd after suggesting a woman will one day serve as President of the United States. This is an enduring example of her role as a feminist; though politics was the Bush family business, Mrs. Bush chose to support the business by supporting the active players in the game. She did not speak out on her own too much and even rejected the thought of being popular as that was not her motivation at any time during her years of public service. Mrs. Bush championed literacy, telling Larry King in 1994 that not just literacy, but family literacy would reduce poverty and crime simultaneously; she went on to say that there is really no excuse for illiteracy. What a project for a First Lady to take on. The enormity of the issue of literacy in people’s ability to comprehend, read, and write is daunting yet Barbara Bush wanted to help the most number of people possible with what she chose to champion as First Lady and she continued this work after leaving the White House.
Mrs. Bush’ legacy is one of strength. She spoke her mind yet was aware of her chosen position so much so that she chose not to contradict those she was supporting for public office. She was also an honest, intelligent woman whose kindness showed to anyone she was near. We can now watch videos of people remembering her and look back on her visits with troops in the early 1990s, with schoolchildren reading, and with her family (even dogs) over the course of her life. She gave us all someone to revere as exceptional in name, persona, character, and courage. She showed us all that women don’t have to be submissive. We can support others if we so choose and that the sideline isn’t truly a sideline unless you deem it so. The matriarch of the Bush family supported a husband and son as president, another son as Governor of Florida, and that same son’s run for president in 2016. It takes a strong person to do this, to weather the attacks leveled at her husband, sons, and family as a whole. This strength is commendable.
Barbara Bush is remembered for many things and they are overwhelmingly positive. That her admiration spans across the ideological and political spectrums is worthy of great awe as it seems unique in the political arena of today. Barbara Bush’s passing has left a hole in the nation’s heart and I expect she’d tell us to keep our feet off the furniture, make our beds, and persevere always toward a better tomorrow.