Laura Bush has shown that her husband isn’t the only one who can do stand-up comedy. In her case, it was deliberate, performed before the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association.
The dinner is a century-old tradition where reporters, politicians, and other entertainers dress up and schmooze each other, not unlike what they tend to do all year long, only in suits and dresses and not tuxedoes and US$3,000 ball gowns.
Another of the traditions is that the President of the United States attends the dinner, and becomes a stand-up comic, poking fun at himself and the reporters. Before and after the dinner, news organisations throw exclusive “Oscar-type” parties, all meant to bring selected “we-think-we’re-important” people together. At one time, the dinners were off-the-record. Now they’re just a lot of soft news for reporters who often haven’t fulfilled the wishes of the Founding Fathers to be watchdogs upon the government.
More than two decades earlier, Nancy Reagan, always immaculately dressed in designer clothes, did a self-deprecating parody of Second Hand Rose. But at this dinner, Laura Bush, on schedule, interrupted a lame joke by the President to do her own comedy routine. The President knew his wife would interrupt him - it was his idea - but he didn’t know what she would say. Landon Parvin did. Parvin, who has written comedy for President Reagan, and both the senior and junior Bushes, wrote the First Lady’s zingers.
To delighted laughter, Laura Bush said she recently told her husband, “‘George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later’. … Here’s our typical evening. Nine o’clock: Mr Excitement here is sound asleep and I’m watching Desperate Housewives. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife.”
She poked fun at her husband’s language skills: “George and I are complete opposites. I’m quiet. He’s talkative. I’m introverted. He’s extroverted. I can pronounce ‘nuclear’.” She even poked fun at his super-macho image to destroy, rather than fix or build: “George’s answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chain saw, which is why I think he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well.” She threw one-liners about Barbara Bush and the Presidential retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine. She had read her lines well and received a standing ovation from the star-struck extras.
During George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign, Laura Bush seldom spoke out, and when she did, it was carefully scripted and on message. Part of it was the reluctance of the shy former librarian to be on stage. Much of it was campaign strategy to play to a part of America that believes wives should be shy, relatively meek women who stand by their husband’s side and echo all of his thoughts, unlike the image that Hillary Clinton showed the American people for eight years.
During her husband’s first term, the dutiful wife did dutiful things. One of the things she did not do was to join thousands of her fellow librarians in speaking out against the excesses and threats posed by the USA PATRIOT Act to the nation’s libraries and readers. But, she was not alone. Few journalists, and almost none of the Washington correspondents, even wrote about the excesses and Constitutional violations of the PATRIOT Act until it appeared that public opinion was changing.
She could have spoken out against the Bush-Cheney administration’s disregard for the First Amendment by establishing practices to shut down dissent or the extensive undermining of the Freedom of Information Act. But she did not.She could have spoken out against the abuses and torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. But she did not. She could have spoken out against the nomination for attorney general of Alberto Gonzales, who had written the memos condoning torture and arguing that the Geneva conventions don’t apply to prisoners of Americans. She could have spoken out that the selection of judges should be upon judicial competence, and not upon religious or political philosophy. She could have spoken out that the nomination of John Bolton to the United Nations ambassadorship was a disgraceful “in your face” slap to that world body. She could have spoken out against the lack of ethics of Texan Tom DeLay, majority leader in the House. But in every case she did not.
She could have spoken against the politically-motivated invasion of Iraq that was based upon a series of lies told both to the President by his own staff and repeated by the President to the American people. But she did not.Although her husband was strutting on a world stage, while proclaiming he was responsible for decreasing terror, she could have spoken out that the Administration’s claims were fiction, and that there was a significant increase in terrorist attacks in the world during 2003 and 2004. But she did not.
She could have spoken out against the use of several hundred million dollars of Homeland Security funds as political pork, and of the ineptness and the harassment of innocent Americans by several federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration. But she did not. She could have spoken out for more funding for education, for better health care for all Americans, for worker rights, and against the desecration of the environment. She could have spoken about against the massive tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans that will cost taxpayers more than US$1 trillion over the next decade. But she did not She could have spoken out that the tenets of Christian charity are not to eviscerate those who aren’t Christian or who don’t live the lifestyles that a small minority of extremist fanatics within that faith, now guides for the Bush administration, believe is the only “moral” way to live and to worship. But she did not.
There was a lot that Laura Bush could have said during almost five years in the national spotlight. But, this dutiful wife chose to recite comedy lines, while the sycophantic Washington correspondents, trying to keep gravy off their tuxes and gowns, laughed heartily, recorded every word, and wrote dozens of light-hearted stories that were reprinted by almost all of the nation’s news media.