By MARC McDONALD
"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
---Barbara Bush, March 18, 2003, just before the start of the Iraq War.
Reflecting on the passing of Lady Bird Johnson takes me back to an era when our nation had first ladies we could be proud of. For that matter, we had a nation we could be proud of. Seems like a million years ago.
Lady Bird was a champion of environmentalism (a word that is utterly alien to the current White House). She was an advocate of many other noble causes as well. As former President Carter noted, "Many people's lives are better today because she championed with enthusiasm civil rights and programs for children and the poor."
By contrast, Laura Bush, the current first lady, simply seems to be out of touch with the American people, much like her husband.
We saw this repeatedly during the Hurricane Katrina crisis when Laura repeatedly showed herself to be incapable of even correctly pronouncing the word "Katrina." Indeed, during that disaster, she appeared to be as out of touch with ordinary people as Barbara Bush. Recall how the latter made one insensitive, idiotic comment after another when speaking about the victims of the disaster.
"Almost everyone I've talked to says, 'We're gonna move to Houston.' What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas," Barbara Bush said.
As Bill Maher noted at the time, the problem with the pampered, sheltered aristocratic class of people like the Bushes is that they're often racist without even realizing it.
Speaking of living a pampered, sheltered life, that sums up Laura Bush's life perfectly. Just like her husband, she has seen time and time again as her wealth and connections got her out of crises that'd be much more serious if they happened to ordinary folks like you or me.
Take her 1963 car crash, in which she ran a stop sign in broad daylight and smashed into another car, killing its occupant, a young man named Michael Dutton Douglas. She never faced the slightest legal repercussions for this event and no charges were ever filed.
The accident never received any attention from the mainstream media and has been pretty much covered up over the years (just like Laura Bush's habit of smoking).
One wonders, though, if this had happened to Hillary Clinton instead. I get the feeling that the mainstream media would have jumped all over the story. And everyone in America would be constantly reminded of it on a daily basis by hate-wing radio.
Instead, the image projected by the MSM of Laura Bush has been carefully sanitized. It's an image that is only occasionally punctured when Laura opens her mouth and reminds us that she's as out of touch as her bumbling husband. She doesn't seem to be very well informed about the real world---but that doesn't keep her from speaking about topics like the disastrous Iraq War.
As she told Larry King in a February interview: "Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody."
(In fact, as Think Progress noted at the time, the number of daily insurgent and militia attacks in Iraq has skyrocketed to nearly 200 a day).
Of course, if you take a look at Laura Bush's activities in the White House, you'll find that she, like a lot of first ladies, has championed various causes over the years. If you take a close look at them, you'll find that she's no Eleanor Roosevelt.
Take Laura Bush's support of the National Anthem Project, for example. This program aims "to revive America's patriotism." The program has been criticized as promoting a corporate agenda in public schools (complete with company logos that are blatant advertising).
My biggest problem with National Anthem Project is its idea of "patriotism" as some mindless, jingoistic, flag-waving behavior that wouldn't be out of place on Fox News. True patriotism doesn't need to be promoted by the government, or any organization, for that matter.
True patriotism is cultivated when our government does the right thing. That hasn't been the case under George W. Bush. Indeed, many Americans, far from feeling patriotic these days, are ashamed at what our nation has become.
Lady Bird was of an era when things were much different. Although it's difficult to fathom today, once upon a time, America was actually respected and admired by much of the world. When we spoke about human rights, our words carried serious weight. But in today's era of Iraq and Gitmo, any lectures we now offer the world on human rights are met with derision and ridicule.