Barbara Bush’s priority was to her husband

Barbara Bush used to say that she thought her son, Jeb, was the most likely of their children to be a successful politician. That was then. This is now.

I knew Barbara Bush back in the day. The Bush children, beginning with George W. and ending with Dorothy “Doro” ranged in age from early 20s to sub-teen at the time. I met the kids one night when we were having a drink in some hotel suite in Texas. You may have forgotten that George Bush twice ran for the U.S. Senate in Texas. Lost both times.

That California State University professor, Randa Jarrar, had an interesting take on the former First Lady on the occasion of her death last week:

“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Prof. Jarrar said. I’m “glad the witch is dead.” This from a woman whose native land was liberated in the first Gulf War. Oh, well.

Prof. Jarrar is right about three things. Barbara Bush was generous, smart and amazing. Racist, not so much. I never heard a racist word come from her mouth in the many weeks I observed her close-up as a newspaper reporter.

Barbara Bush was not in the least apologetic about her priorities. She had one priority and one agenda, and she proudly celebrated it: that was George Herbert Walker Bush. She was smart enough to see that when she met him at a high school dance.

And then she dropped out of Smith College to marry him in 1945 after he returned from World War II as a war hero.

Mrs. Bush was mostly a housewife and mother after Bush graduated from Yale and migrated to Texas to make his own way. Bush did not want to be a Wall Street banker as was his father and older brother. A father, Prescott Bush Sr., who later was a U.S. senator from Connecticut. So they landed in Midland, Tex., in the middle of the Texas “oil patch” – the Permian Basin.

But Bush made his modest fortune as the founder of a company that perfected off-shore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. By this time, the Bushes were in Houston.

My main acquaintanceship with George and Barbara Bush came in 1970 when Bush ran for the Senate a second time, this time at the strong urging of President Nixon. After that first defeat for the Senate in the 1964 “Goldwater landslide,” Bush ran for a “new” congressional seat in Houston in 1966. This was an era when almost all elected officials in Texas were Democrats. In an election-night shocker that rocked the Democratic establishment, Bush won easily, defeated the Harris County district attorney, Frank Briscoe.

The idea in 1970 was for a conservative to defeat Texas only elected liberal Democrat, U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough. The only trouble was Yarborough was defeated in the Democratic primary.

Nonetheless, Bush made a strong race of it in the fall against future U.S. Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr., later secretary of the treasury and vice presidential candidate. Texas statewide political campaigns are flying circuses. Everything is far apart, and the traveling Texas press corps can be large. Mainly we traveled in old DC-3s, a World War II-vintage, two-engine aircraft that easily accommodated the candidate, a couple staff and five or six reporters. Access to the candidate was complete. It was a fairly friendly atmosphere.

The Bush plane was mostly outfitted in an executive style, so I spent part of those months seated across from Barbara Bush. Part of the time she campaigned on her own.

It now is fairly well-known that six children were born to the Bushes, not five. A daughter died at age three. George Bush once told a Zero Population Growth convention that he probably was an utter failure in their eyes although he had laid on the couch moaning the day Barbara told him she was pregnant with Doro. He thought he was done with diapers and colic at his age.

I never knew Barbara Bush as other than with white hair and matronly. In later years, she became known as America’s grandmother. Plenty of First Ladies have their husband as their priority and agenda. Nancy Reagan certainly did. Bess Truman did. Lady Bird Johnson did. Even Hillary Clinton did in her own way.

Somehow, radical feminism didn’t sideswipe Barbara Bush’s agenda.

The writer covered George Bush’s political campaigns for the Houston Chronicle 1967-72 and later for The Wisconsin State Journal when Bush was running for president in 1980.

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