It has been more than a week, but there is still a lot of uneasiness out there concerning Laura Bush's "speech" at the White House Correspondents Dinner—and I've been one of those in the uneasy camp.
Before you tell me to lighten up, please know that . . . I do posses a sense of humor (well, at least a few of the 5-year-olds in the Sunday school class my wife and I teach think I'm funny). I can laugh at the world around me, including when things that are near and dear to me are the butt of jokes. But there are times when I realize I am inadvertently crossing the line with my attempts at humor and wish that I could pull those inappropriate words back in—especially when my "jokes" dishonor or belittle my wife. I can at least write those occasions off as being a slip of the tongue and make a point of being more careful next time. And I could cut the first lady some slack if I thought she had been caught off guard in her comments about her husband, but her remarks that evening were carefully scripted and rehearsed.
You have to ask "What was she thinking?" Was this merely an attempt to "humanize" the most powerful man in the free world? Or was it a calculated move to make the president more appealing to the cultural elites? After all, Richard Gere, Elisabeth Shue, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, among others, were in the audience that night. Regardless of the motive, the execution was not befitting of a first lady, nor was it honorable or respectful to her husband and his position.
Diana West makes a good point concerning this in her column today:
"George," [Laura Bush] said, "if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later." The hilarity of her moment passes, but something has changed.
Exactly what it is that has changed is difficult to explain. After all, the whole thing was "just" a joke. But Laura Bush is not Joan Rivers. Splashing into the media mainstream to join the derisive fun, decoupling fateful words from mortal purpose, is a risky proposition for the wife of a superpower leader. One day, "ending tyranny" is Mr. Bush's raison d'etre; the next day, it is Mrs. Bush's punch line.
The day after that -- who knows? The lingering air of uncertainty is hardly worth the media snickers, even if the first lady did manage to "humanize" her husband, as The New York Times so admiringly put it. Certainly, she knocked him down some pegs, which in our age is much the same thing. But imagine other presidencies, particularly in wartime. Would we have said Eleanor humanized FDR by doing a stand-up routine about Franklin always "fearing fear itself"?
And what about the popular culture references Mrs. Bush felt she had to include in her "routine," such as her comment about watching "Desperate Housewives"? Sure, it is a ratings hit, but the show probably more than any other on the air today embodies what is wrong with our society. In his column today, Brent Bozell points out:
It's some of the worst American pop culture has to offer, and will qualify as one of our foulest exports when it hits the international TV market, with America-bashers around the world declaring that America is captured perfectly by that cartoonish show: soulless wealthy people misbehaving in the most shameful ways imaginable. God bless America.
To me, no matter whether she actually watches the show or not, the first lady's comments made her appear to be more of the world rather than being salt and light in the world. It has become all too important for people, especially parents, to go with the flow and immerse themselves in the world out of fear of being ostracized by their peers or their children. In fact, the Bush daughters at last year's Republican convention praised their parents for being "cool," because they are "in the know." Bozell addresses this by saying:
It's never a bad idea for parents to be tuned into what the popular culture is offering, but there's a difference between knowing something and wallowing in it. Parents need to be knowledgeable and discriminating about the culture their youngsters consume, prepared unequivocally to condemn lust without borders, violence without conscience or language that assaults the ears.
Here's hoping that President and Mrs. Bush will not just write off this episode but will use the experience to learn from it and take more seriously the roles they model for the rest of us, as a husband and a wife and as parents.
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