Friday, May 20, 2005

On How President Bush Talks About the First Lady's Trip

It's pretty common for President Bush to refer to the First Lady in his speeches' introductions. Usually, he uses her as something of a foil, contrasting her grace favorably with his own rough edges or casting her as straight-talker who is able and willing to call him on his mistakes and shortcomings. Having recently embarked on a visit to the Middle East, Laura Bush is being cast by the President as a messenger of freedom, representing the United States and trumpeting democracy.

Granted, my description of the First Lady's trip is pretty lame, but it ends up not really being any better than the President's. Look at how he described her trip at the recent International Republican Institute Dinner:
I regret Laura is not with us tonight. You probably think she's working on some of her one-liners. (Laughter.) She's actually packing her bags because she's off for Jordan and Israel and Egypt, to continue to deliver the freedom message -- and I can't think of a better messenger. (Applause.)
Then, the next day, when Bush spoke in Milwaukee:
But before I get there, I've got some other things I want to say, if you don't mind. (Laughter.) First, I'm sorry Laura is not traveling with me today. She is -- you probably think she's home preparing a few one-liners. (Laughter.) She's not; she's home packing her bags. She is off to Jordan and Egypt and Israel to represent our country. I can't think of a better representative than Laura Bush. (Applause.) She's going to help advance the freedom agenda -- which is really the peace agenda. The more freedom there is in the world, the more this world will be a peaceful world. (Applause.)
And, most recently, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast:
I am sorry that Laura is not here. You probably think she's preparing a couple of new one-liners. (Laughter.) But, in fact, she's winging her way to Jordan and Egypt and Israel to spread the freedom agenda. (Applause.) But I know if she were here, she would join me in thanking you and millions of others whom we'll never get to say thanks to in person for the countless prayers. It's an amazing experience to be the President of a nation where strangers from all religions pray for me and Laura.
Certainly, there are some who might object to the idea of sending the well-off wife of the President of the United States to deliver the message of freedom, as if she were peace's pigeon. Others might critique the notion that freedom, as a concept and a practice, is so easily packaged and delivered to the world's sandier corners.

I, however, hardly know about such things. Instead, what I object to is the rather flippant way in which the President casts the First Lady's trip. Laura's off after having just packed her bags, rather than after she fastiduously prepared for the trip's more abstract and symbolic needs. Once her bags were packed, Laura Bush then winged it to Jordan. Though the language suggests otherwise, I hope that when she goes and enacts freedom for the Middle East, she does more than just wing it. By Bush's own words, after all, this is a significant trip with a significant message. I just wish he would characterize it in a way that differs from how I would describe a trip to Michigan to visit the folks!

I wonder, too, what a feminist critique of the First Lady and all this packing would be like. Would it point out that despite representing the United States and freedom as a woman--in an area of the world not known for feminism or gender equality--the First Lady is being "contained" by presidential descriptions that place her in the very domestic scene of the suitcase-strewn bedroom?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think he's just using language that is simple and easy for people to understand.

5/21/2005 1:50 AM  

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