For some, Barbara Bush is nothing but a puff of white hair and a vague recollection that she was once the First Lady of the United States. But she is much, much more than that – one of only two women ever to be the wife and mother of presidents, among the most beloved first ladies ever and the undisputed leader of her prominent political family.
Our conversation, emailed and easily edited for the river, is below.
Cillizza: Barbara Bush is the wife and mother of a president – a unique historical distinction. How does she see herself in this role?
Brower : She is a devoted wife and mother and she is faithful to her husband whom she called "a saint". (She has a very dry sense of humor, so she often said things like "I have the perfect family" with a wink, but when she calls her husband a zaint, "I think she means it." [1
Cillizza: She was for a long time the iron fist of the family, which she saw in the political career of her husband and her eldest son
Cillizza: At first, Barbara Bush was not enthusiastic about the 2016 campaign by Jeb Bush. Why not?
The bushes were in this very difficult position to have to endure their sons the disappointments that accompany the political life. They were surprised when Jeb, who seemed like his father's heir to the presidency, lost his first run for governor in Florida in 1994, and in the same year his brother George W. won the governorship in Texas. George H.W. Bush said then, "The joy is in Texas, but our hearts are in Florida."
The stress weighed on Barbara, and a former White House bishop who worked in the White House when the bushes were in office described this as difficult as it was for them. He watched as Barbara and Bush celebrated the second inauguration of their son as president in 2005. The bulk of their big family gathering for brunch in the second-floor family dining room served Jeb, the governor of Florida was the time and obviously upset about something. Barbara and George H.W. Bush was standing in the hallway in front of the Queen's Bedroom, and the Lincoln Bedroom tried to comfort Jeb while George W. Bush was celebrating. Here it was, with a son celebrating a second presidential victory in the hall while she consoled her other son, who was obviously downcast about something.
Cillizza: She was not shy about her views on Donald Trump and once publicly asked how women could vote for him. Is this view of the current president relaxed? Or did it harden over time?
She told me something is wrong with a First Lady who does not understand the incredible opportunity she has. She was the most popular first lady among the butlers and maids of the dorm. She told me, "I would like to go back and live there and not take the responsibility." She enjoyed her life and had fun as a First Lady – we do not see that anymore. Everything has become so serious, and First Lady seems more a duty than an honor.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: The permanent legacy of Barbara Bush in the White House will be __________.
Brower : "The enduring legacy of Barbara Bush in the White House will be compassion."
Literacy was her primary focus as First Lady, but I think her legacy will be her ability She understood the power women have and what she could do with a single image – that way she was like Princess Diana.
This one visit was stronger than any number of speeches or public appearances. She understood that, and I think her empathy will be an important part of her legacy.