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Jenna & Barbara - Aren't There; Don't Care

The July, 2004 issue of VANITY FAIR includes an article titled, "The Bush Bunch" which profiles "all the President's women." Comment on the title page: "Bush claims to love strong women and he is surrounded by them: his mother, Barbara, and his mother substitute, Karen Hughes; his wife, Laura, and his professional wife, Condeleeza Rice; Cabinet members Gale Norton and Elaine Chao. The only ones who don't toe the line are his daughters."
Covering the 1968 Republican convention in Miami, Norman Mailer was forced to re-examine a long-standing prejudice. Journalism is so much easier when life doesn't get in the way, but Mailer was never one to discard sensory perceptions. For years he, like so many political watchers, had pondered the lurching menace of Richard Nixon's Frankensteinian personality, tracing the intricate, frayed coils of Nixon's duplicitous nature. "There seemed at the time no limit to Richard Nixon's iniquity," he wrote in MIAMI AND THE SIEGE OF CHICAGO. But in the lobby of the Hilton Plaza, Nixon's daughters, Tricia and Julie, arrived for a rally, and in the presence of their poise, self-containment, and immaculate complexions Mailer was forced to concede, "A man who could produce daughters like that could not be all bad." Nixon's daughters revered their father, and a father who could be so revered was not without saving graces.

What do Jenna and Barbara tell us about Daddy dearest? Like the Nixon daughters, the Bush twins have been blessed with creamy complexions, but there the comparison ends. They seldom talk up their father, or show their pert noses at public occasions. It's a mental stretch to imagine Tricia or Julie getting nabbed for using a fake ID to buy alcohol, or being photographed sloppily rolling around on the floor, or, worse, making life hell for the Secret Service agents assigned to their protection. In a story in U.S. News & World Report, Secret Service agents complained about how shabbily they were treated by the First Daughters. After Jenna was refused service by a bartender in the summer of 2001, she upbraided the agents on duty for interfering with her fun, taunting one of them, "You know if anything happens to me, my dad would have your ass." Barbara, who is usually described as the quieter, more studious twin, led agents on a merry chase after she gave them the slip to attend a pro-wrestling match in New York. "Members of her security detail had to wait in the toll lane on a bridge into Manhattan, then weave through traffic at high speeds to catch up." Quite a contrast with Chelsea Clinton, who was a model of comportment and consideration, according to an agent who served on her detail. "You could work with her. You could make a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. These girls don't understand that."

According to Gerhart, the selfish antics of the Bush twins can't be chalked up as the hormonal rebellion that hits so many young adults on their way to their first kegger. They're the product of a lifetime of coddling and entitlement almost guaranteed to spit out a pair of Hilton sisters. For supposed conservatives, George and Laura Bush treated their daughters with a permissive indulgence worthy of love-beaded, do-your-own-thing liberals. "Jenna and Barbara have not been asked to campaign. They have not been asked to rein in their adolescent rebellions. They have not been asked to appear even nominally interested in any of the pressing issues affecting this world their generation will inherit. They have not been asked to have any empathy toward the struggles and responsibilities facing their mother and their father, the president of the United States [another contrast with Chelsea, who accompanied her mother to India and Africa] . . . They have not been asked to show their faces at the White House very often. They have not been asked to make something of themselves in their own right." Reading about their hanging with Sean Combs and Ashton Kutcher (who blabbed to ROLLING STONE that they'd been boozing at his house and partaking of the hookah), it's easy to slot the Bush twins as stuck-up babes and concur with Gerhart's verdict: "These girls have all the 'noblesse', and none of the 'oblige.'"

Why wasn't 'oblige' inculcated in them, as it was in the Nixon daughters and Chelsea Clinton? There's something unpinpointedly awry in the relationship between Bush and the twins, a burr of resentment. Over Christmas in 2000, on the eve of W's joining his father and brother Jeb in Florida for a fishing trip (a bit of R&R after the protracted recount battle), Jenna suffered stomach troubles and was rushed to the hospital. She required an emergency appendectomy. Her mother slept at the hospital; her father wasn't present for the surgery and, never one to miss a vacation, didn't let it delay his exit. Gerhart picks up the rest of the story in THE PERFECT WIFE:

"The next day, he went on vacation to Florida just as he had planned. As he boarded the plane, reporters inquired about Jenna's condition. 'Maybe she'll be able to join us in Florida,' the president-elect said. 'If not, she can clean her room.' The reporters stared at him, stunned. 'I couldn't believe it,' one of those present later said. 'First of all, I'm a father, and I cannot imagine a scenario in which my daughter would have major surgery and I would just leave on vacation. And then he just seemed so snarly about it, like he was pissed at her.'"

Why would a father be "pissed" at his daughter for falling ill? An emergency appendectomy isn't some little sniffle. Notice how, despite his reputed ease with strong women, Bush can't resist the domestic stereotype when the safely catch comes off his mouth. When the usually punctual Karen Hughes is late for a meeting after being stuck in traffic (she recounts in TEN MINUTES FROM NORMAL), Bush, "a man who hates to wait," greets her by asking, "Did you have fun shopping?" Laura he has sweeping the porch back in Crawford like some pioneer woman. And Jenna he sentences to stay home during the family vacation and clean her room, as if she were being punished.

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The rest of the article is similarly intriguing.

so when 24.Jun.2004 13:23

kurtkabang

so when did laura become a strong woman?

Duh!! 28.Jun.2004 18:49

judy

When you describe the Bush daughters, you are describing GW at the same age - spoiled, self-indulgent, uninterested in the world. As a matter of fact, he's not much different today. As a wise person once said, "The apple does not fall far from the tree."