Maureen Dowd takes on Laura Bush in...
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I READ, I SMOKE, I SPIN
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: February 22, 2004
Laura Bush does not want that Chanel-wearing, shawl-draping, senator-marrying Teresa Heinz Kerry to get her house.
It's a swell house, with doting servants, fresh flowers and grand paintings.
And she does not want her Bushie to be tarred for lacking character, after he ascended by promising to restore character to an Oval Office still redolent of thongs and pizza.
So the reserved librarian who married the rollicking oilman on the condition that she would never have to make a political speech has suddenly transformed herself into a sharp-edged, tart-tongued, defensive protectrix of her husband's record.
Many White House reporters, including ones the first lady has been testy and sarcastic with, say they are thrilled with the new Laura. They found the old Laura "plastic" and "unreal," limited to treacly concerns about children, reading and being George's rock. The new Laura, they say, has "juice."
But I kind of miss the old Laura, the one who long ago shocked W.'s paternal grandmother by describing her interests in a way that sounded, heaven forfend, French: "I read, I smoke and I admire." The new Laura reads polls, fumes and admonishes. A cool Marian the Librarian morphed into a hot Mary Matalin, running around the country spinning reporters, slicing and dicing Democrats, and raking in dough at fund-raisers.
I always had a cozy image of Laura Bush curled up in a window seat in the White House solarium, reading Dostoyevsky and petting a cat dozing beside her. She seemed beyond politics, an estimably private, utterly classy presence unsullied by the nasty edge that Bush family politics takes on when a Bush pol gets in trouble, not the sort to needle political rivals and the press or rigorously catalog injustices the way Barbara Bush did.
Not that Laura was bland. I liked the confidence with which this champion of literacy blew off the poets she'd invited to the White House last year, once she realized they planned to do to her husband what Eartha Kitt did to Lyndon Johnson — turn a cultural event into an antiwar protest. It was her party, and she could cry foul if she wanted.
During the 2000 campaign, she was content to be the serene counterpoint to her husband's boyish bouncing off the walls. She rejected Hillary's two-for-the-price-of-one mantra and told The Times's Frank Bruni, "I'm not that knowledgeable about most issues. . . . And just to put in my two cents to put in my two cents — I don't think it's really necessary."
Bush advisers liked her detachment from the messy arena. They thought she made her husband seem grounded, moderate and down to earth, a contrast with the obsessive, egoistic ambition of the Clintons and Al Gore.
But this time around, it is Mr. Bush who is getting attacked on credibility and do-whatever-it-takes ambition. His strategists, panicked about chaotic Iraq, confused economic policy, cascading deficits and incoherent National Guard records, needed to draw, if you'll pardon the expression, the most unimpeachable person in the White House into the fray. They pitched her as Mr. Bush's secret weapon. Maybe, after the David Kay debacle, the White House just needed to unearth a weapon — any weapon.
The woman known for telling her husband to tone it down is now telling his critics to get lost. In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, she said of the National Guard flap: "I think it's a political, you know, witch hunt, actually, on the part of Democrats."
Speaking to The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller, a prickly Mrs. Bush defended her husband on Iraq and shared the chip on his shoulder about the East Coast elite, apparently resentful that they might consider her a 50's throwback, doing women's work.
Talking to ABC's Terry Moran, Mrs. Bush harshly responded to Terry McAuliffe's AWOL charge: "I don't think it's fair to really lie about allegations about someone." She stated flatly that W. was pulling Guard duty in Alabama. When Mr. Moran asked how she knew, she replied, "Well, because he told me he was."
The last time a powerful man from Texas got into trouble and sent his wife out to defend him, it was W. contributor Kenny Boy Lay.
The president can't skirt the issues by hiding behind Laura's skirts forever. One way of showing character is to come out from behind all her protestations about his character.
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