NFRW Republishes 1988 Article Featuring Barbara Bush
Editor’s Note: As the nation remembers and pays tribute to First Lady Barbara Bush, the NFRW is republishing an article from the September/October 1988 issue of The Republican Woman magazine. The article is a snapshot of what was happening at a critical moment in the 1988 presidential campaign, offering a heart-warming and nostalgic glimpse of our vibrant, future First Lady, and reminding us of what was important to her and what motivated her. Ever a champion of Republican women, Mrs. Bush encourages the Federation to continue its important work in areas other than party politics, foreshadowing the vital partnership that would later be formed when the NFRW established the Barbara Bush Literacy Program -- which is still going strong today. [Mrs. Bush and her foundation collaborated with the Literacy Committee on the most recent literacy program, and she was still a member of her local club at the time of her passing.]
NFRW President Judy Hughes Visits Barbara Bush
During a visit with Barbara Bush this past June, at the Vice President’s residence, NFRW President Judy Hughes discovered that Mrs. Bush, not unlike her husband George, is coming into her own during this election season. She is expanding her personal agenda, and focusing on issues of national concern as she campaigns to elect George Bush as President of the United States.
Whether you are meeting Barbara Bush for the first time or the fiftieth, several words immediately come to mind: warm, caring, concerned, poised, and gracious.
In the midst of a hectic campaign schedule, Mrs. Bush, accompanied by her ever-present springer spaniel, Millie, took time out to relax at home and to visit with Judy who asked her about plans to expand upon her well-known advocacy of adult literacy.
“George has chosen as one of his themes ‘invest in our children,’” Mrs. Bush says. “Having spent 10 years promoting literacy, I’m thinking of leaning slightly more toward our children because they’re our future. But that wouldn’t take me out of adult literacy, because every time you teach an adult, you really teach children.”
Mrs. Bush expresses concern that few Americans know of her battle against illiteracy and tells of how she became interested in the cause in 1978, when her husband first decided to run for the presidency.
“I had always volunteered in hospitals, and that’s wonderful, but I did it in individual hospitals, and that’s not a cause you can carry around the whole country. I kept thinking about what would be the greatest thing. And it really came to me that everything I cared about would be better if more people could read and write. And how right I was.”
Mrs. Bush praises Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign, saying America owes the First Lady an enormous debt for her drug-prevention efforts. To her “Just Say No” campaign, Mrs. Bush says she would add “Say Yes to Education.”
“I think a lot of kids get into drugs because they are frustrated, they miss out on school, for some reason they are lonely, unloved maybe, and I think literacy counts there too,” she added.
Barbara told Judy that she is especially eager to promote her husband’s campaign to be America’s “Education President.” Her interest in educating America’s youth is apparent as she refers to numerous figures on illiteracy.
But her concern is not limited to an understanding of educational statistics. She brings human insight and family oriented solutions to these problems. “I know when you go to the prisons, over fifty percent of our prison inmates are functionally illiterate, eleven percent of our seventeen year olds are illiterate. So, we need to work in bettering and tightening up our school system and helping get parents back to being involved. I’m a big advocate of family. I believe your first teacher is your mother.”
She also sees the family as a solution to many other social problems. For example she speaks out about teen pregnancy, a problem which deeply concerns her. “We’ve got to crack down on the fathers – you can’t even say husbands anymore,” she says sadly.
Becoming passionate she added, “We’ve got to educate our children, particularly women. I feel very strongly about this, and I’ve got to be careful. But it’s a one-way street for women when they’re having babies as teenagers. For the man it’s scot-free – but for a woman it’s a one-way street and in many cases, I’m sad to say, it’s down.”
“We’ve got to point out to these girls that there’s nothing they can’t do in life. We’ve got to make sure that these young women are loved as children, loved as teenagers, they don’t have to go out of their homes for love.” Judy comments, “Barbara speaks as if she knows each girl personally and wants to help carry their burden, and by just listening to her, you know she would.” Mrs. Bush went on to say, “There’s plenty of time for babies, and plenty of time for real commitments. These fly-by-night relationships are doing nothing but locking women into poverty.”
Day care is one of the hottest issues of this campaign, and Barbara Bush approaches it with a mixture of common sense and personal knowledge.
Having lived in China when her husband served as the U.S. Ambassador, she knows first-hand that state-run day care centers do not work. “There are a lot of alternatives to having a state-run day care center that everyone has to go to,” she says. “If you lived there you’d never be in a favor of that.”
Instead, she told Judy, she favors the Republican plan of diversity in day care as opposed to the Democrats’ proposal to subsidize child care for working mothers only. “We want to give each woman a choice as to whether she can stay home with her children, take her children to a church day care center, or have her mother stay [with the children.] Women should be rewarded across the board. The Democrats’ idea is to reward only the mothers who work.” Citing the Democrats’ plan she explains that if we follow their lead, we’ll have to cut out church day care centers, which she believes are among the best this country has to offer.
Quickly, she brings up New Hampshire Governor John Sununu’s plan which would ease state liability laws surrounding child care centers. She is also a proponent of providing economic benefits for companies who provide on-site child care for employees.
Millie, the aforementioned springer spaniel, who has been sitting on Barbara’s lap, shifts her position. The mood changes, and the conversation shifts to the Vice President, the campaign, and the so-called gender gap which at the time allegedly existed between George Bush and American women.
Barbara says that she is not fazed by the talk of such a gap, as she is confident that women who care about peace and the economy will back the Vice President. She explains that she believes once women see George Bush actively pursuing his education goals, his concern for day care, AIDS victims, and the homeless, as well as his positions on economic and foreign policy, they will understand that he does care about the future of our nation. She was right. Only days after the Republican National Convention, polls showed the so-called gap had disappeared.
Barbara glowingly speaks about her husband’s record on issues of grass roots importance. She gives example after example of his community service, an area of particular pride which she believes demonstrates his caring and concern. “For 45 years George has been active in the United Negro College Fund. This is not something he has done for politics, this is the way he thinks and feels. The world really is a better place because of George Bush. Places he’s lived are better because he cares about them and not because he’s put in political lip-service, but because he’s worked and done his part.”
One aspect of the campaign which troubles Barbara is that she must be apart from her husband more often than she likes. “I haven’t been doing as much of that [traveling with the Vice President] as I’d like. But I’m committed from now until November to giving my utmost. If the campaign thinks it would be best for me to go to East Oshkosh, I’ll do it,” she laughs. “I suspect I’ll be with George some. I suspect I’ll be away from him mostly. I don’t like that,” she concedes, “but that’s the way it is.”
Although Barbara does not accompany the Vice President as often as she would like, she nevertheless has a full campaign schedule of her own. She is a tireless campaigner who attends political functions on a daily basis, and she won’t hesitate to tell you that she enjoys it. She says she’s been in politics so long that these events are an opportunity for her to catch up with old friends and thank them for the work they’ve done.
Many of those old friends are members of NFRW. Mrs. Bush is quick with genuine praise of the organization and its membership. “I’ve followed the Federation with enormous interest.” She reminisces about the days when her husband was Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Federation was, as she put it, “a step cousin” to the RNC. “You got an allowance,” she recalls. “The Federation has grown so that today you need no money from the National Committee. I mean, it’s the most amazing organization and I would like to see you continue what you’re doing. It’s wonderful,” she remarks to a beaming Judy Hughes.
As a frequent guest of state federation conventions, as well as a most appreciated “regular” to NFRW conventions, Mrs. Bush is current on many Federation projects and activities. “One of the things that’s really pleased me is the fact that the Federation has gotten involved in things other than just Party politics.” This comment reinforces her strong belief in community service and the Republican philosophy of neighbor-helping-neighbor comes through again. “They [clubs] have taken on causes and they’ve become so active in their community. I think that’s very important.”
She then made the Federation an offer no one will refuse. “If George gets elected, I would hope that a certain amount of my time would be dedicated to helping the Party grow. It’s important to do it during off election years, and I hope the Federation would call upon me to help.”
Reflecting on her role as the Vice President’s wife and anticipating the role of the First Lady, Barbara Bush said that she hoped America would maybe be a little more literate because of her. And when it’s all said and done she answered, “I’d like people to think of me as caring.” Don’t worry, Barbara, they already do.
CAPTION: Judy Hughes, who served as NFRW President from 1986-1989, with Barbara Bush.