Moderate Moment | Moderate Moms

“What are we going to do for Barbara?”

If there is a single person who represents the way a modern Moderate Republican woman thinks, it is Barbara Bush. Our local CBS affiliate in Houston is now reporting that Mrs. Bush passed away after declining extraordinary intervention.

For someone who loves words and wit, her blending of both has been extraordinary. Her timing spot on. Politically, she was ahead of her time, as the following quotes show in uncanny hindsight:

On Politics “The personal things should be left out of platforms at conventions. You can argue
yourself blue in the face, and you’re not going to change each other’s minds. It’s a waste of your time and my time.”

“I hate the fact that people think compromise is a dirty word.”

“I don’t think that’s healthy for the Country when anyone thinks their morals are better than anyone else’s.”

“Political posturing is not governing and Naysaying is not Leadership.”

On a Woman President “Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President’s spouse.
I wish him well.”

On Diversity “Bias has to be taught. If you hear your parents downgrading women or people of different backgrounds, why, you are going to do that.”

On Potential “If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”

On Reading “Everything I worry about would be better if more people could read, write and comprehend.”

On Choice “I hate abortions but just could not make that choice for someone else.”

On #43: “I may be the only Mother in America who knows exactly what her child is up to all the time.”

Unfortunately, we will probably never know the exact shade of words she chose in response to son Jeb, a Candidate for President, being labeled weak with low energy or when George W., was caricatured for his faith and accused of suffering from dyslexia, something another sibling had been diagnosed with. Hopefully, she shrugged it off. I just found, in an old archived article from the New Yorker, this steely stalwart of a different era was wary about chatting with reporters off-the-record. A Silver Fox with a silver tongue knows sometimes you get Gold by saying nothing. If Barbara Bush didn’t laugh about the “barbs”, at least she got the last laugh by realizing off-the-record may not always be.

I remember reading that her husband’s supporters were advising Barbara Bush to color her hair, which had turned white prematurely. This was before I had worked in politics or started to color my own. I was dumbfounded. I read they wanted her to look younger than her husband. I thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. But, a New York Times article, shows it was a serious topic of discussion. (NYT Archives 1988) She told the Times, “When George was first going to run for President, a member of our family said, “What are we going to do about Barbara?” Now the question needs to be, “What are we going to do for Barbara?” As far as what to do about Barbara, let’s acknowledge how right she was on so many contemporary topics like Tolerance, Choice, Civil Rights and Gun Reason.

Appearing at a 1992 Bush Quayle NH campaign stop, on a day which started at 4:30 a.m. in Washington, the First Lady said about her schedulers, “I’m not sure they know how old I am.” No, they didn’t know. And neither did we. We just saw you for the character you were and the character you had, beyond the color of your hair, the privilege of class and the generations between us.” Barbara Bush blurred those lines because she cared about things that were universal: equal rights, clean air and water, sick children, the importance of early intervention in education.

I don’t think it is insignificant that, in that clip from that New Hampshire campaign stop, Mrs. Bush is in the background with a sea of well-wishers between her and the cameras. You can barely see her back there. It is almost humorous by today’s standards of media coverage. She clearly wasn’t worried about face time or getting her good side on television. When a supporter holds the local paper up, to show her she is front page news, she rushes to throw a hand over the top-of-the fold photo.

Her stump speech is sweet and supportive, “In our 47 years together, he has been right a lot.” On her marriage to George, “I was and I am in awe.” On the run up to the second Gulf War, “The only thing that remained steady, calm and sure was George Bush.” “I may be slightly biased but I really think George Bush is a spectacular President.”

While the former First Lady may have deferred to her life’s partner over the course of her career, she can’t block our view of her accomplishments as easily today. As God gently reached out to Barbara Bush, and as she patiently awaited Him, we need to acknowledge how her words have shaped the current generation.
One granddaughter, her namesake, runs the Global Health Corps, an organization dedicating to helping the sick and poor, particularly in Africa, access medicines and treatments readily available in the first world. The younger Barbara Bush took an early and very public position in favor of a Gay Marriage ballot initiative in New York years before it was made legal nationwide; Jenna Bush Hager is a Today show correspondent. The former First Lady’s Grandson, George Prescott Bush, is running for re-election for Texas Land Commissioner and could be the first Mexican-American President. As Commissioner, Jeb’s son George “P.”, who is helping to rebuild parts of the state ravaged by Harvey, doesn’t seem able to and maybe isn’t trying to avoid a trait that is synonymous with being a Bush Republican. According to the Texas Tribune, he “maintained a low profile”, in his bid for Texas Land Commissioner, “emphasizing his conservative values while his critics accused him of being a Moderate.” Son Neil and his wife head up the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

There is a lot of talk about the men of the Greatest Generation. And certainly, President George H.W. Bush’s life was shaped by the values that generation is noted for: frugality, modesty, service to others. But it should be noted his wife, who he was married to for 73 years, stands out as one of the Greatest Women in that Generation. Looking at a list of U.S. Navy Ships named for women, there are ships named for Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, Astronaut Sally Ride and even, Sacagawea. When I think about Barbara Bush, I am reminded of these mighty vessels and wondering if it isn’t time for the Navy to add another woman’s name to one of its’ ships. Friday night’s use of force to destroy Syria’s alleged cache of chemical weapons, which Bashar al Assad had reportedly used again on his own people, led me to think, “This one’s for you, Mrs. Bush.”

With five kids of her own, Barbara Bush joked about being “Everybody’s Mother.” She supervised 29 household moves. As a young Mother, on a trip north to summer in Maine with her children and staff in tow, Barbara Bush refused to eat or sleep in any establishments along the way that wouldn’t serve her two African-American maids. She served on the Board of Morehouse College and named Frederick Douglas as her favorite historical figure. She recognized what it meant for racists to talk in code, something getting renewed attention in the media today.

The name Barbara means traveler to a foreign land. And yet Barbara Bush’s view of what lay ahead, once she declined further medical care, felt like it was more familiar to her than most. It could be her faith. It could also be the Angel she has waiting there for her and George H.W., the daughter she lost to Leukemia when she was just 3 years old.

Robin, your Mother bears good news.

The survival rate for the most common type of childhood leukemia has increased from 4 percent in 1962 to 90 percent today. According to St. Jude.org, 98 percent of children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia will go into remission within weeks of starting treatment. Thanks to innovations with vaccines and immunotherapy, cancer patients across the board are not just surviving, some are thriving post-recovery, something unimaginable in the 1950’s.

According to the World Health Organization, new HIV infections fell by 39 percent between 2000 and 2006.

The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

According to ProLiteracy.org, the effort to promote literacy has given us a greater understanding of the connection between low literacy and poverty, low literacy and health outcomes, low literacy and incarceration.

High schoolers across the Nation have found a voice in bravely organizing and demanding changes in how the United States is dealing with gun violence.

According to American Progress.org, African American women earned more than half of all science and engineering degrees attained by African Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control tells us teenage pregnancies in the Hispanic and African American population have dropped by 51 and 40 percent, respectively, in the last decade.

A powerful and affluent class of Influentials is emerging in the African-American community. As Nielsen reports, the incomes of African-Americans earning more than 200,000 dollars a year jumped 138 percent between 2005 to 2013.

Declining medical intervention, Barbara Bush had reportedly said she hoped God would still recognize her with all the replacement parts she had been carrying. As we pray for her loved ones, I want them to know this moderate Republican woman will always recognize her as the First Lady who made it cool to wear fake, who got a you-hurt-my-feelings letter from Marge Simpson, who made it okay to vent. She probably knows she had me at “It rhymes with rich.” The perfect word is, after all, the perfect word. I would love to tell her something she may not know, too. Yes, it was you Mrs. Bush who inspired my older Sister to give my Mother a surprise gift – a Springer Spaniel who looked like Millie – when my Mother was living in a house in Florida with alligators in the pond out back. (Note to my own children – Don’t ever do that.)

I always joke with my kids that I never did or said anything someone else could call smart until I called out the Republican party for failing to work across the aisle and for hamstringing itself over social issues.

Reflecting on your words here now, Mrs. Bush, I see how influenced I was by your way of thinking, something I don’t think I was aware of before now. Reading does change lives. You and it have changed mine.