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Spoken from the Heart
by First Lady Laura Bush
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
Laura Welch grew up in Midland Texas, just 10 blocks from George W. Bush. It was a small town and they were the same age, so of course they knew each other, but they did not date as teens. They "re-met" years later, re-introduced by mutual friends. They married after a 6-week courtship, when both were 31 years old. Laura says the timing was right: both wanted to start a family, rather than to date. She dismisses the idea that their courtship was brief, because they had known each other since early childhood, and their lives were so intertwined that there would be no "dark secrets" that would come up later between the two of them. And for the reader, yes, Laura does detail all of the "dark secrets" in this book!
Laura's childhood was in the harsh semi-desert town (as she described it) in West Texas oil country. She drank beer at age 7 (but gave it up when she took her church's temperance pledge); she smoked in her teens; she got into the usual trouble with her friends in school. But she was an only child, and says that the standard for an only child is to not disappoint one's parents, and she did not.
Her upbringing was not privileged (unlike George W., who even then was the grandson of a Senator). She describes her home as modest, cooled in the summer heat by "swamp coolers" (evaporative passive air conditioners still common in the desert Southwest). She dated football players and others; but was not into sports because she is strongly myopic; she was an avid reader and a good student.
Here's Laura's "dark secret": At age 17, in late 1963, Laura ran a stop sign and was ejected from her car when she hit another car. The other driver was killed. Laura suffered a broken ankle. Her passenger survived. There is no mention that she was drunk, only inexperienced and perhaps distracted. The other driver was a resident of Midland also, so Laura knew him and his family too. She describes the incident in some detail (mostly how she prayed for the victim's survival) but mostly she focused on how she and her family moved on quickly by avoiding talking about the incident. Laura says she lost faith in God for a few years because her prayers went unanswered. Laura as First Lady received many letters from young people in similar tragic circumstances, and always recommended therapy and open discussion. She regrets that she never discussed the accident with her victim's parents (whom she knew and her parents knew, in that small town), but doesn't regret her lack of therapy, because that was just not done in 1960s Texas.
Laura left soon afterwards for college at Southern Methodist University. She was a "serious student," she says, but drank "way too much," even when underage. She acknowledges the civil rights movement but claims she was not an activist. She did, however, seek teaching positions in "inner city minority schools." The Texas of Laura's youth was the segregated South -- she says she had no opportunity to make any African American friends, because the black residents of Midland were so segregated.
Shortly after her marriage to George W., he ran for Congress. He lost, because despite that West Texas was conservative, they voted Democratic, in the tradition of the Yellow Dog South. Laura made her first political speech during that race; noting that George had promised her that she would never have to make any political speeches. "It was the only promise he ever broke," Laura writes.
Here's George's "dark secret": Laura writes about George's alcoholism, and how he famously gave up alcohol after his 40th birthday party. Laura never imposed a choice to George of "It's Jim Beam or me," but she made it clear she encouraged George to give up alcohol prior to that, and supported his doing so after that. Mostly, she hints, it was because George's father was planning to announce for president in 1988, and they wanted to ensure against familial embarrassment.
The rest of the book documents the more well-known portion of Laura's life, as First Lady of Texas and then First Lady of the United States. The interesting part of the book is the first half, because so little is known about Laura, since she was not nearly as outspoken as her predecessor Hillary Clinton. Laura comes across in both halves as a fresh voice, conservative but mostly apolitical, straightforward and steeped in Texas values. Her relationship with, and her opinions of, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Lynn Cheney, and everyone else are imbued with that same fresh perspective. Her take on 9/11, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War are similarly mostly apolitical, focusing on her feelings and experiences (her home, the White House, was a 9/11 target, after all).
Note the modifier "mostly" for the term "apolitical" above. Laura in this book is mostly a cheerleader for her husband's policies. But she does express some opinions of her own, and sometimes she does get political. She even, sometimes, disagrees with George: Laura is pro-choice, and much more in favor of women's rights than George. She recounts how the press harped on abortion because of the prior stance; because of the latter stance, the Saudi delegation walked out of her speech on women's voting in the Middle East. But overall she cheerleads for George's decisions, especially on Iraq (no one knew Saddam had no WMDs, she claims, and the world has avoided trouble in future decades by removing Saddam). She even cheerleads on Katrina (there were more emergency supplies pre-positioned than at any past event in history, she notes, blaming all problems on the Democratic Louisiana Governor).
The book is a good read for pundits who want to see a fresh perspective, and a good read for regular voters who just want to know more about our former First Lady.
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, Feb. 2013
by First Lady Laura Bush.
Page last edited: May 27, 2013