WaPo has an excerpt from Ann Gerhart‘s The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush, forthcoming this week from Simon & Schuster. The focus of today’s offering, entitled, “Laura’s Girls,” is twins Jenna and Barbara Bush. After a long piece on how Jenna dared to wear corduroys and flip flops on a plane trip somewhere, we get this bit of condescension:

They are girls born rich, blessed with intelligence, good looks, trust funds, loving parents, boundless opportunities, freedom from many of life’s daily vexing challenges. Yet they persist in seeing themselves as victims of daddy’s job. In this attitude, they have been subtly encouraged by their mother. Laura Bush would never permit herself to feel victimized by her husband’s decisions. She regards herself as a full partner who embraced his ambitions because she wanted for him what he wanted for himself. His happiness has been as important to her as her own, or greater. No, any victimization she might have felt has all been transferred onto her girls. Once George sought political office when his girls were 12, Laura’s guiding principle in mothering became “they didn’t really ask for this,” as if the life that followed for Jenna and Barbara was some disastrous, bumpy detour from the normal smooth path toward adulthood.

“They just want to do like every other teenager does,” the first lady has insisted often. This declaration is dead opposite from most parents’ insistence, which is, of course, “I don’t care what the ‘other’ kids do. You are not other kids.”

While I’m sufficiently old school to think people traveling on airplanes should dress presentably–let alone if their parents happen to be the sitting President and first lady of the United States–this sort of examination seems uncalled for. While the girls are now young adults, they have neither chosen the limelight nor, as is often the case with politicians’ children*, been paraded before the cameras as a political prop. And, of course, they would be rich, good looking, etc. if Daddy weren’t in politics, so it’s not as if they are benefitting immeasurably from the rather high scrutiny that has befallen them. (How many other teenagers make national headlines when they sneak a beer while in college?)

Indeed, it seems to me that their parents are handling this just about right:

When she talks about her girls at all publicly, the first lady is given to making bland, nonspecific declarations of love and support. “I think they’re a lot of fun to be with,” she said. “I guess I would say that I’m engaged by them, with their personalities. . . . I think, like every parent, if your children are happy, then parents are happy. And if they’re unhappy, then there’s nothing more difficult for parents.”

President Bush is slightly more revealing. “I love them a lot. I am impatient with them. I wanted them to be normal when they were teenagers, and I wanted them to be working ladies,” he told Ladies Home Journal. “I’ve got to slow down. I’ve got to allow them to become the bright young ladies that they’re becoming at their own pace, and not at mine.

“They are beginning to realize that they’ve got to take some responsibility for their own lives and beginning to think about their career paths,” he said. “Laura chose her career path . . . early. I didn’t choose mine until a little late. And uh,” the president said, chuckling, “I never really was that worried about the career path.”

Just think how far he could have gone had he just applied himself!

*While I have little good to say about the Clintons, I will readily concede that they generally behaved admirably with regard to their public handling of Chelsea. She was, more or less, allowed to live a normal life out of the limelight. Indeed, they took the political heat for sending her to private school rather than forcing her to attend the dreadful DC public schools to make some sort of point.

Update (1550): Tiger (see TrackBack) wants to know where it’s written that you have to dress well when flying. Well, if you don’t, the stewardesses will make fun of you on the Internet, I can tell you that!

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    Didn’t the Bush girls recently get arrested for breaking into a country club in Vermont to steal alcohol? Or am I thinking of somebody else?

  2. Kathy K says:

    I don’t care if the stewardesses make fun of me. I’m going to be as comfortable as possible. Even if I have to march on board in fluffly slippers and flannel jammies. ‘Nice’ dress may be fine for one hour flights but try that with a flight halfway across the world.

  3. I’m having trouble seeing what’s “unpresentable” about corduroys and flip flops–especially for a young person.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I wear cords a lot myself, even to the office. I’d say that flip flops are probably inappropriate for going on state visits to meet dignitaries, though.