Michelle Obama Owes Debt to First Lady Laura Bush, Who Was Her Own Woman

It wasn't easy following first lady Hillary Clinton.

By + More

By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Let's hear it for a great first lady—Laura Bush.

That's right. As we spend the day praising Michelle Obama, who has performed more than capably for 100 days (witness her deft touch at yesterday's dedication of a statue of Sojourner Truth), let's pay a little attention to the gal who did the grueling job of first lady so well before her—for eight years.

It was no easy task following Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady. Hillary shattered a mold like no one since Eleanor Roosevelt. There was going to be tremendous pressure on either Tipper Gore or Laura Bush from feminists, and anti-feminists, who wanted the next first lady to conform to their ideals.

Laura would have none of it. She insisted on being herself. She didn't choose to craft policy but, as far as I can remember, never savaged Hillary for making a different choice. She promoted reading (and never got enough credit from the scribbling class for doing so) and raised well-adjusted (as far as we can tell) daughters in the hothouse of the White House. She would tweak the Democrats in campaigns, but never go nasty, like her mother-in-law. And when she retired to Texas, Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. 

Don't get me wrong. Laura was a Republican first lady, representing the party of America's social conservatives. To many outside the GOP, the role she chose was too circumscribed by the traditionalists in the Republican ranks.

But when Michelle Obama took over in January, much of the tension over the role of first lady had been defused. Michelle has been free to define herself, and has started with style and confidence. And for that we owe a nod to Laura Bush. 

  • Check out our political cartoons.
  • Read more by John Aloysius Farrell.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about first ladies.