First Lady or Fair Game?

Fox News host Chris Wallace's third question to Laura Bush in his White House interview with her on his Sunday show This Week captured in a nutshell the reason we've been hearing more from her than her husband, whose public approval has dipped into the 20s. It's because Americans don't hate her as much -- yet. Said Wallace:


As someone whose … approval ratings are double your husband's, why do you think the American people are beginning to lose confidence in your husband?
The first lady's response to the question was in perfect harmony with the typical White House line on the failed Bush presidency:
Well, I don't think they are, and I don't really believe those polls. I travel around the country. I see people. I see their response to my husband. I see their response to me.
There are a lot of difficult challenges right now in the United States. We face many, many challenges, unprecedented challenges, when you think about the huge area of destruction after Hurricane Katrina or a war on terror. All of these things are new, really, for the American people. …
And as I travel around the United States, I see a lot of appreciation for him. A lot of people come up to me and say, "Stay the course." And I think right now what we're seeing with these poll numbers is a lot of fun in the press with taking a poll every other week and putting it on the news, on the front page of the newspaper. When his polls were really high, they weren't on the front page.
Ah, yes, it's the media's fault. We've heard that one somewhere before. It may not have been appropriate to go after Laura Bush when she was pushing for her pet projects on literacy and AIDS in Africa, but the question arises: If she's going to come out and make an outright political defense of her husband, does that put her in the category of "fair game?" Is the case for going after her all the stronger if she offers purely unscientific public opinion analysis like "I don't really believe those polls" or cites her interactions with Bush loyalists in artificial Potemkin Village town hall meetings as representative of the "people?"

Yep. And here's the way to frame it: George Bush is hiding behind his wife's skirts. That's what's going on here, and she deserves to be called on it. Otherwise the responsibility for challenging the first lady is in the hands of sycophants like Chris Wallace, who left his interview with Laura wishing her little more than a happy Mother's Day. The first lady made outrageous claims about wiretapping and unwarranted surveillance, the "war on terror" and Hurricane Katrina, and there was hardly a peep of rebuttal.

Peter Daou at Salon believes the first lady is fair game:
Laura Bush's remarks are par for the course for any right-winger. Attacking the media is second only to despising liberals in the right-wing playbook. Facts don't matter. … Laura Bush can teach Dems a lesson: With the facts squarely against her, she still bashes the media. With the facts on their side, Dems shouldn't be reluctant to hold reporters to task for pro-GOP spin.
Of course, part of the trickiness of going after Laura Bush is the gender aspect -- should the first lady's public detractors be the same sex so as to avoid the appearance of incivility? Or, to avoid giving Laura and the White House an opportunity to elicit pity and a second round of attention to her fraudulent claims about her husband's popularity?

Female political blogger Taylor Marsh could offer some cover in that regard, but the real strength of Marsh's attack on Laura Bush came from the quality of her argument:

"It was a trip to the political Twilight Zone with first lady Laura Bush. She's a feminist, she declared on This Week. She's busy rebuilding New Orleans (obviously because her husband doesn't know how). Her husband is making hard decisions. It's difficult. It's challenging. Repeating that the president has to make the tough decisions, again and again.

"Her message: The president has an agenda. She's campaigning around the country for Republicans because George needs a Republican Congress to get it finished. Never mind that her husband actually needs a Republican Congress so he doesn't end up finished, answering questions about his disastrous decisions and the methods used to get us in this unmitigated mess. Oh, and about Bush's illegal spying program, Mrs. Bush said that her husband is 'fiercely' protecting our privacy. 'These are links to al Qaida that they follow,' she continued, which is all done 'within the law.' I couldn't help but hear the old do-do-do-do Rod Serling theme song throughout her yarn-telling performances, which were a propaganda tour de force.

"Former first lady Hillary Clinton got pilloried for 'vast right-wing conspiracy.' So why doesn't first lady Laura Bush get the same treatment, especially when she veers into the unbelievable? Beware of modest little librarians who come out and tell us tales, choosing to leave reality back in the library rooms. If Mrs. Bush is for 'education,' then she surely decided to slip the constraints of teaching on this Mother's Day. I don't expect her to pillory her husband but do expect a little rational dialogue that deals with facts. Today's interviews were fact-free fluff fests, filled with presidential propaganda that diminished Mrs. Bush's stature. It was, quite frankly, beneath her, but I guess flacking is now job one since her husband has become a political pariah in his own party.

"There may not be much mileage in calling first lady Laura Bush on her performances today, but considering the blatant misinformation, which is the kind way to put it, somebody has to do it. How Mrs. Bush can go on the Sunday shows and deliver such unmitigated rubbish is beyond me."

Let's hope it's not beyond the better angels in the mainstream media.

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