Wednesday, October 20, 2004

First in Her Class

Presidential elections never center on the Vice President or First Lady, but you learn a lot about a candidate from the two most important personal choices he can make: his life mate and his running mate. With self-restraint bordering on the monkish, I have devoted only two posts to the inestimable Mr. Cheney. I did plan to write about Laura Bush closer to the election, but the new quotes from Zsa Zsa, I mean Teresa Heinz Kerry, have inspired me to seize the day.

I luv Laura. Not l-o-v-e, of course, an emotion reserved for people I have actually known, but I feel a warm visceral connection every time I see her. She is such a pretty lady from the inside out, radiating grace, dignity and humility. She strikes me as our most purely all-American First Lady in at least a generation.

To watch her reading to children is to understand the sacrifice she made as a new wife who walked away from her dream career. She seems like a natural-born educator with her even modulation and patient posture, and she did identify her calling early in life. I think some of the most effective teachers, especially those at lower grade levels, are aglow with a benevolence that I call the Good Witch Glinda effect. Laura Bush has it.

I am not moved to defend her just because we are both members of the library sisterhood, although she does us proud. More than a tireless advocate for literacy, she exemplifies a lot of the family values that many women admire. She seems smart, strong, loyal, nurturing, protective, and very loving. She has been a teacher, librarian, mother of twins, wife of an ambitious man, and role model to millions. Most women appreciate her hard work and self-denial for the sake of her family. Most women can relate to her experiences and choices. The fact that Teresa Heinz Kerry feels superior is not news, but for her to demean the woman who holds the position she covets is another ugly precedent in a campaign that is unprecedented for its ugly precedents.

When you are in a healthy, happy relationship yourself, you recognize the same behavior in others. The genuinely affectionate and respectful way George and Laura treat each other in public feels instantly familiar to my husband and me. They serve as a conspicuous contrast to the Kerrys, a complex couple who share a love of their own voices. The last time we had a complex couple of narcissists in the White House, the country was dragged through a sordid drama that forced parents to answer uncomfortable questions about cigars and stained dresses.

The first eight months of the Bush 43 administration are obscured by that infamous day in September. But I recall a collective sense of relief that normality and responsibility had returned to the highest office in the land. Laura Bush reminds me how far we have come and how much we have to lose.

If Teresa Heinz Kerry has forgotten what a really big job looks like, maybe this will nudge her memory.

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