tv First Ladies Influence and Image CSPAN November 22, 2015 11:59pm-1:36am EST
of the time and the immediate and long-term impact of the decision. that's coming up the next landmark cases, like monday night at 9:00 eastern. order your copy of the landmark cases companion book, available for $8.95 plus shipping at /landmarkcases. >> you're watching american history tv. forow us on twitter information on her schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. announcer: "american history tv" is featuring c-span's original series, "first ladies: influence and image."
c-span produced the series through the help with the white house historical society. we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. now barbara bush on "first ladies: influence & image." this is about 90 minutes. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> did i feel prepared? yes. i did notice the difference between being the vice president's wife and the president's wife is huge because the vice president's wife can say anything and nobody cares. the minute you say one thing as the president's wife, you have made the news.
that was the lesson i had to learn. >> barbara bush used the office of first lady to promote literacy and to raise awareness about aids and homelessness. she earned her way into the history books. she and abigail adams are the only women to be both a wife and mother of a president. welcome to "first ladies: influence and image." tonight is the story of barbara bush. for the next 90 minutes, to tell us more about her life and influence are two guests.
the barbara bush biographer, part of the series we have turned to so often. she is a first ladies scholar. jeffrey engel is the founding director of the center for presidential history at southern methodist university. he is the author of one book on george bush's foreign-policy. we heard barbara bush talk about the fact that when she became first lady, her words were much more attention getting. that trend continues. we will see clips of an interview that she gave to us in october. one of them has been bouncing all around the news networks for several days because she talked about presidential dynasties, political dynasties, and the potential for jeb bush's presidential aspirations. barbara bush -- she had a reputation for a good quote and candid comments. >> she was always very aware of her public persona and i think she was always concerned about
whether it would have political consequences for her husband. she also was very candid and sometimes a comment slipped out and she admonished herself or from time to time. >> the candid barbara bush had some pluses and minuses. >> she would really speak her mind and she was somebody who would speak her mind to the president, but not in a public way. she would tell him what she really thought. >> as we are working our way through the biographies of these women, barbara bush is between two much more publicly active first ladies. nancy reagan, hillary clinton.
barbara bush talks about her approach to the job. >> if you ever wanted to give advice or talk about policy with your husband, how would you do that? >> if i wanted to, i would just tell them. the truth is, i did not want to. he had great advisers. i never called his office to say, if i had something to say, i would say it to george bush. but i did not call jim baker. i have never had an office except in the house. at the white house, i had an office, but i never went to it. i did not get into his office affairs. >> describe her approach.
>> as she became first lady, she wanted to do something positive every day and she set out with her staff to do that. she looked up potential for her literacy project, some of the other thing she was interested in, and it was full speed ahead to try to do that one good thing every day. >> as you look through the documentary, where can you see through historical documents evidence of her influence on the white house? >> very little evidence of her influencing policy. she believed her role was to set a proper standard for the white house. her impact upon the administration was really in
portraying them as forthright and honest. we do not see any particular policies that come out of her influence. rather a general tone that the public took to. >> how is that different than the reagan years? >> mrs. reagan like to get her hands dirty in politics. she would frequently call up the office of the president admonishing them for one thing or another. mrs. bush never did that. she did not directly involve herself in policy. she cared a lot about politics. she knew what was going on in washington. she made sure she knew the gossip, but she was not interested in changing the policy. >> during the campaign times, as she involved in strategy?
>> less about strategy than being out in front for the campaign. she was much more popular than he was. many times the president would center out on the campaign trail and begin to answer questions with, barbara and i think. >> the subtitle of your biography is presidential matriarch and that is the next clip we will like to show you. let's listen in. >> how do you develop that thick skin for politics? >> i am not good at it. most people do not dare criticize my children in front of me. the press, i do not pay any attention to. i do not like it, but i do not pay any attention to it.
do not dare criticize george h.w. bush. ever. >> when she came to the white house, she told her press secretary that there were three areas where you'd better keep hands off -- her fellow, family, and her dogs. that followed through. she was very concerned and reacted sometimes very quickly if there was criticism of george bush. and the children. >> we are going to invite you to participate in our discussion tonight. we have a conversation underway on our facebook page. you can join that. you can also tweet us. and you can call us. we have our lines divided geographically.
we will try to get as many comments from as many different media as we can tonight. let's understand where she came from. she was was born in new york city in 1925. >> she was born in new york. at the time of her birth, her father was on the staff of the president at the mccall's publishing company. her mother was a descendent of an ohio supreme court justice. the pierce family was related to president franklin pierce. the family moved to rye, new york, where barbara and her
siblings grew up. it was comfortable upbringing. they went to private schools. when barbara was old enough for high school, she was sent away to ashley hall, a boarding school in south carolina. home for christmas break of her junior year, she went to a country club dance and that is when she met george h.w. bush. >> they were very young people and they got married very young. what do you know about the attraction, early courtship? >> they were attracted from the start. they developed an intimate correspondence, which was typical for the times. george bush decides to join the navy. he becomes the youngest aviator in the pacific theater.
their correspondence is emotional, intimate, when they could not be together in the same spot. when they could be together, it was electric. >> she began school at smith college. >> she was there for a year and she admitted that she was not the most dedicated of students. she was more interested in her boyfriend. i believe she was rather active in athletics. she went back for the first semester of her sophomore year and then left school to marry george bush. >> as a young couple, when he went off as an aviator, he had
some very close encounters. do you know the story of his being shot down in the pacific? >> it is a harrowing story. he was on a bombing run and he went in on the run, started to dive down, and was hit by enemy aircraft. he continued on his bombing mission and called back to his fellow crewmates and said, we will continue this mission. we will bail out. he thought they had already left the plane. he discovered later that there was no chance for them to have survived.
he was alone in the pacific and spent 4.5 hours bobbing up and down in the pacific before he was rescued. he spent another several weeks continuing with the summary and on their patrol mission. it was unclear for his parents what had happened to him. he was listed as missing in action. they made a decision not to tell barbara until they knew for certain. >> they missed their first wedding date because he was not back. finally, he was back. on january 6, two weeks after the original date, they were married. >> he served in the military until when? >> he served until 1945 until the peace treaties were signed. he had many points accumulated so he was able to take an early out. he and barbara left for new haven and yale and the beginning of his long-delayed college career.
george walker bush was born during that time. it was also at that point that george h.w. bush was playing varsity baseball at yale and barbara was the official scorer for the team. it was a happy time for them. >> they had six children. george, robin, jeb, neil, and dorothy. i want you to tell the story about robin's death. it impacted both parents. >> robin was a little over two
years old and woke up one morning. at this point, they were in texas. she said to barbara, i think i will stay in bed or maybe i will go out on the lawn and look at the clouds. that raised red flags. her daughter was very active. she took her daughter to the pediatrician and the pediatrician asked barbara and george to come back a little bit later that day. she said to them, your daughter has leukemia. george bush said, what does that mean? at that point, who knew what it was? the doctor says it means she will not live very long. the doctor's recommendation was that robin be allowed to go home and enjoy things.
one of george bush's relatives was a doctor in new york and robin was taken there to try some different treatment modalities to deal with the leukemia. they prolonged her life a little bit. she even returned to texas once, but she passed away. >> they still talk about her today. the emotion is very visible. >> president bush spent his entire life writing letters. the most painful letters we have in the archive are him writing about his daughter, talking about the pain, the thing that is missing. we do need a little girl in our lives.
>> they did manage to recover to some degree and they had a big and bustling family. this next clip, barbara bush talks about her role as a parent. >> you have been referred to by some family members as the enforcer. >> i am not sure i am thrilled with laura saying that. i deserve it. george is so -- anything they do is all right. someone has to be sure the standards are kept. he leads by example, i lead by denying some things. i am the enforcer, no question about it. do i like that role? no. >> any comments? >> her husband always called her miss frank.
she has had his back all of her family members all these many years. if someone was critical, she was going to respond. there was a story that a reporter once told me that if you wrote something negative about bill clinton, maybe the clintons would forgive you and let you write another story. if you said something negative about george h.w. bush, you were done until the next administration. >> we have questions about this on facebook and twitter, and one is, what aspects of mrs. bush's personality might be seen in her son? >> both of them have long memories. barbara bush does not let go of
criticism very easily and i am not sure that george walker bush does either. >> a similar question. are there any passions that a young barbara passed on to her children? >> to understand barbara bush, you need to appreciate that she was a product of her time. the passion was the fact that she had devoted her life to them, to raising a family and to being a good and loyal wife to her husband over the course of his varied careers. he was an absentee father for many years because he was on the road as a salesman, and as a politician. she was there every night. for george w. bush, it formed a role bond between the two of them.
>> some statistics, by the time they made it to the white house, they had been married for 43 years and had lived in 29 different houses in 17 cities. dave murdock wants to know, rumor has it that barbara's hair turned white after robin's death. >> i believe that is true. >> she took the death very deeply. she went through a period of depression and it was only after she was so sad for so many months that she heard george outside saying to a young friend, i cannot come out and play today because i have to take care of my mother.
she realized that was too much burden to put on a little boy. >> leroy is watching us in kentucky. >> did the bush family go by the scriptures? >> we do have a clip where barbara bush talks about her faith. were they church people? >> they always had very strong faith. i cannot really attest to how much church attendance was part of their lives, but i believe it was considerable. >> they did go to church. president bush did give one speech about his own spirituality. i am a person of faith, but i am an episcopalian and we do not talk about these things.
>> they moved to texas and into to california for the oil business. how did they make the transition to politics? >> they came back to texas and they had a great deal of success. they moved to houston. george bush was asked to consider running for harris county republican chairman. that was his first campaign. it was barbara's first campaign, and she really enjoyed it. she felt very competitive and they won that race. 189 precincts and they visited every one. >> we should also note that about that same time, george's father was involved in politics.
>> he was a senator for the state of connecticut. one of dwight eisenhower's favorite golfing buddies. the senior bush was very competitive. eisenhower said, i like playing with him because he is one of the only people who would not let me win. when you on the athletic field, or in any arena, you are there to win. >> to the national stage, how'd that happen? >> there were two terms in congress. a senate try that did not work. two terms in congress. another try for the senate that did not work.
and then there was mr. bush was asked to be republican national committee chairman during watergate. >> between that time, he was united nations ambassador. he is coming from texas, a texas that is transforming itself. when he runs in 1964, he is hopeful of winning, that no republican was going to win in 1964. richard nixon encourages him in 1970 to run again. he thinks he is going to run the exact same campaign portraying his incumbent as a liberal. a terrible thing happened. a more conservative man at the democratic nomination. his entire strategy went out in the wash.
this is still a democratic state. texas will always take the democrat. that has changed, of course. richard nixon tells him, i will take care of you and you can become a united nations ambassador. >> where was his foreign policy at that point? >> he did not have any. he would be the first one to admit it. this is one of the reasons nixon chose him. ultimately, what nixon and henry
kissinger wanted was somebody who would be loyal. the less the person knew the better. he was very good at that. he was very loyal. he liked being with other diplomats. he did something very unusual. his predecessors gave him advice before he showed up. you are the ambassador from the most powerful country in the world, let them come to you. he said, i will go visit other people. he went to all of the different nations in their offices. something an american ambassador had never done before. >> barbara bush enjoyed those u.n. years. >> she had not gone outside the country. her first time going outside the country was when they were in china. but she loved the time in new york.
they had a suite in the waldorf towers, where they entertained, and they entertained constantly. i think something that jeffery's hit on is important here, too. for both bushes, there was an understanding, a comprehension of the importance of personal diplomacy, and it worked very well for both of them. susan: so let's get the sequencing right. first, there was the u.n.position. next for the bushes was -- jeffrey: head of the republican national committee. susan: and during what time period, with watergate? jeffrey: well, unfortunately for the president, this was during watergate. of course, watergate doesn't show up until after he's already in the position, and he has the unenviable job of going out every day and defending the president. and he feels it's his duty as republican chair to defend the president no matter what, not matter what his own sinking suspicions are about the
president's own guilt. he refers to this period as being in the eye of the storm, that this is the worst part of his life. susan: and this for mrs. bush, in this town, with the rnc position being a very social one, this town was so full of tensions at that time. what was life like for her and her family? myra: it was difficult. and she really wondered how he was soldiering on. and there comes a point where mr. bush has to go to president nixon and say to him, "it looks like most hope is lost, and we hadn't hoped that things were going to come to this, but it looks like they will." susan: kumu is in quincy, massachusetts, and our next questioner. you're on the air. hi. are you there? >> hello? susan: yes, you have question? >> oh, yes. hi. sorry. this is kumu gupta, and i'm in quincy, massachusetts, which is
the birthplace of john adams. and i had called in, you know, when you had the show on abigail adams. and i have a question and a comment. and my question is that you mentioned earlier that mrs. bush is the first lady after -- or the only first lady after abigail adams who was the mother of a president and a vice president. and my question is, is that also true that she's the only first lady after abigail adams who was the wife of a president and a vice president? susan: president and vice president, as well as -- myra: who was the one -- pat nixon. wife of a president and vice president. susan: but not the mother of a president. myra: barbara bush and abigail adams. susan: thank you for your call, and thanks for following the first lady's history along with us. so from watergate, chief of the republican party, to china, how did that position come across? jeffrey: this is a great story, because it tells a lot about
president bush on many levels. watergate occurs, president nixon resigns, gerald ford comes in. george bush is considered very strongly to be one of the potential vice presidential picks for gerald ford. he eventually goes with nelson rockefeller, and turns to bush, and essentially he says, "you've been a loyal soldier for the republican party for all these years, and, quietly, i'd like to get all of the people who were involved in watergate, even publicly, out of the city, out of limelight. what would you like to do? i know you like diplomacy after having being in the u.n. where would you like to go? i can offer you paris, i can offer you london," really, the prime jobs he has to offer. and george bush looks at him and says, "i'd like to go to china."
and gerald ford says, "would you like to go to london or paris? because those are the better places to go." and bush says, "no, china is going to be a future. china is growing. china is an exciting place." and this is really key, and this comes up in his personal correspondence at the time -- china is a lot cheaper than london or paris. the ambassador to london and paris and other fine capitals of europe is expected to supplement the embassy's social budget. and after all these years in public service, george bush felt like he -- and five kids he put through college -- he felt like he wanted to go some place that was a little bit more affordable. and his diary throughout his time in china is filled with references to how not only exciting it was, how vibrant it was, but how wonderful it was to live in a place that was so inexpensive. susan: barbara bush loved china, it seemed. myra: she said it was probably her favorite place to be. the kids were not there. they were all back in the u.s. susan: but the dog went with them, correct? myra: the dog went with them, absolutely. but she had george bush to herself. the two of them took advantage of the many possibilities that china offered. they learned to speak some chinese. they were able to enjoy going out into the countryside. we didn't have a full consulate there. it was a liaison.
jeffrey: it's the u.s. liaison office. we didn't establish relations until 1979. so it's an unofficial official post. myra: so there was also a little more freedom that came with that, that might not have been there otherwise, but it was -- she was very unhappy when they had to leave after a year. susan: and what, very briefly, would china have been like during that time period? it seems like it was just on the cusp of change. jeffrey: it was a world apart. it was a world away. there was no telephone connection that was reliable. mail service was spotty. you could really feel like you were getting away from it all. and then-ambassador bush felt after watergate that he was exhausted, that he needed a sabbatical, that he needed time away, and china was a wonderful place where he would say, "the phone doesn't ring on my desk. i can get away and rejuvenate." and it was a place that was actually dark at night. this is at the end of the cultural revolution, and it really is not the vibrant, exciting, smog-filled beijing
that we know today. it was a really quiet place to be. susan: and barbara bush must have been quite of interest to the chinese, a woman with white hair they weren't used to seeing and also not really very many westerners at the time. myra: right, right. susan: did she write about that experience at all? myra: she did. she wrote some columns for newspapers which were then sent home. and she just found so many things to be unique about the experience. barbara bush was -- and perhaps still is -- an inveterate scrap-booker, and the collections at the bush presidential library have cataloged all of these. susan: we're going to visit the bush library next and learn more about scrapbooks that she kept during her china years. [video clip] warren finch: mrs. bush began scrap-booking shortly after she and george bush became engaged, and really began scrap-booking after they were married. and it's a hobby that she continued throughout george
bush's entire political career and family career. there's over a hundred in the collection, and they're the older, large-format scrapbooks. they go throughout his time in congress, his time at the u.n., the rnc, and china. president bush was head of the rnc. and when ford became president, he asked him where he would like to go, and so he had just reopened our relationship with china. and president bush told president ford that he'd like to go to china. and there was no u.s. ambassador to china. there was only a u.s. liaison. so they weren't all the trappings of an ambassador's residence. there was no huge staff, or no staff like is typical at a u.s. embassy, because this was just a
u.s. liaison office. they were there for about a year. they got out among the public. one of the things president bush said he wasn't going to do, he wasn't going to sit in the u.s. consulate, he was going to get out. and they did get out. and president and mrs. bush got out on their bicycles and bicycled around beijing and very much enamored themselves with the chinese people and the public. president bush took chinese lessons and was able to learn enough chinese to carry on a conversation with his barber and also invite people over to play tennis. mrs. bush has hundreds of photos, some of what you see in these scrapbooks, that she took of her travels around china. mrs. bush has often said that of all the jobs president bush had
during his career, this is one of her most favorite, because they did get to spend so much time together, because of the fact that there was no huge -- there was no staff to speak of and it was just kind of the two of them. susan: so from all of the intrigue and interest in china, the next stop for the bush family was back in washington at the cia. these were more challenging years for barbara bush. myra: they certainly were. she was not happy to return to washington, particularly not for her husband to become the director of the cia. it meant among other things that he could not tell her anything that was going on in his workplace. and this has been a relationship where the two of them had really discussed everything. and the kids were gone, and the beginning of the women's
liberation movement was starting, and barbara bush plunged into depression. and those were some difficult times for her. her husband suggested that she get professional help, but perhaps with a yankee self-reliance, she felt that she could handle it. and i've heard her say in the years past that today, if someone says to her, "i'm depressed," she says, "i'm sorry to hear that. get help." so she's come full circle on that, but those were tough years. susan: peter is in southington, connecticut. hi, peter. you're on. >> hello? susan: yes, sir. >> i'd like to share a story. i worked at a banquet facility in connecticut. and barbara bush came to connecticut for a fundraiser for governor john rowland. the owners of the banquet facility invited the school down the street to have all their students come, and the parents felt it was too political, so they allowed two children to
come from each class. she arrives in the back of our building, got out of the suv herself, saw the children, immediately went over to them, who were so, so excited to be in the presence of her. after she had passed by, one little girl, the little girl got sick and threw up. barbara bush turned around, picked that child up, positioned her so that her two-piece red suit and her white pearls, nothing got on her. she comforted the girl, she kissed the girl, she told her it was all right, put the child down, and continued on her day. she was extremely gracious and humane. susan: peter, thank you very much for sharing that story. does that ring truth to both of you, that her comfort with campaigning, her comfort with interacting with -- myra: absolutely. she became a very good campaigner.
she worked a crowd very well. that action with that young girl wouldn't have surprised me at all. susan: mack is in hammond, indiana. hi, mack, you're on as we talk about barbara bush. >> yes. i had two statements to make, then a question, very quickly. three statements. one, i'm a democrat. and out of all of the presidents' wives, i think barbara bush is one that i respected greatly for her frankness and just a beautiful person. the other statement was this. two more statements, real quickly, and then the question. i had a great respect for her husband, although i didn't vote for him. but what he did in the gulf war by going in, organizing and
going in and getting out. whether he took care of saddam hussein, that's another thing, but he got out. the other thing was when he was confronted, when clinton -- and i don't agree with what clinton did with the young lady in the white house -- but he was confronted with it. and what i understand, he says, listen, "i'm not getting into that." i was wondering what was barbara's position in reference to the clinton affair? was she ever confronted with it and how she handled it? and i'll be quiet. susan: thank you very much. do we know? myra: it occurred during the 1992 presidential campaign. she tried not to talk about it. she would say to the press, "aren't there other things that you can talk about? you know, this is speculation." so she really tried to stay above it as much as possible. susan: so we've fast-forwarded to the 1992 campaign, but we've really got to get back their foray, first foray into presidential politics. the bushes wanted to be a candidate in 1980, a highly competitive year. so would you quickly kind of
tell us about their decision to run for the white house and what barbara's role was in that campaign, because this is really her story, and then ultimately how they joined the ticket with the reagans? jeffrey: yeah, actually, i don't think it was much of a decision at all. i think it was a fait accompli that he was going to run for the white house. as early as the time that he's in china, he's actually telling visitors that he intends to run for the white house. and so he goes back after leaving the cia, after -- he actually wanted to stay on at the cia, after president carter took over, but carter put his own man in. george bush goes back, does a few years of business, but really is laying the groundwork for his ultimate campaign, and actually does surprisingly well against ronald reagan. ronald reagan, of course, had nearly won the republican nomination in '76 and was expected to win the nomination in '80. but george bush hits the ground running and takes iowa and really surprised a lot of people and makes it seem as though this is going to be a competitive race. unfortunately for him, at that point, the reagan steamroll begins and he winds up winning the nomination handily. and george bush goes to the
republican convention really thinking that was it. he was going to release his delegates. he had played his part. and reagan actually comes up with a very unusual plan that perhaps he's going to bring back gerald ford and they would be co-presidents, gerald ford take the nomination and essentially handle foreign affairs while reagan handled domestic affairs. and very quickly, it became apparent that was never going to work. so reagan then turned to george bush, the man who had finished second, and offered him the ticket, and george bush took it in a heartbeat. susan: and what was her role during the 1980 campaign? myra: she was certainly someone who listened to her husband's speeches and reacted. susan: did she campaign herself? myra: absolutely. she was out there on the hustings. and this is the first time also that we hear about her literacy interest and project, because she says, "if we go to the white house, my focus is going to be on people learning how to read"" susan: and where did that come from? myra: two schools of thought on that.
one of the bush's sons, neil bush, was dyslexic and was diagnosed at a time when it really was not -- there wasn't a lot known about it. and barbara worked with him, hired tutors, and helped him to learn to read. so there are many people who believe that it was a personal interest that sparked her activity in literacy. she's said in some statements that that wasn't true, that instead it came from her own love of reading and the fact that she has these wonderful memories of childhood of her family all reading together. and she believed that parents were the first teachers that children had. my feeling has always been maybe it falls somewhere right in the center. susan: next up is michael watching us in washington, d.c. hi, michael. >> hi, i have two questions. did barbara bush stay friends with former first lady nancy
reagan? and did she have any of the living first ladies back to the white house while she was in the white house? susan: ok, thanks very much. well, they were on the ticket together, but most of your reading of history suggests that it was not the warmest of relations. jeffrey: in fact, your caller asked if they stayed friends after the white house. that suggested they ever were friends. i think the bushes were very adamant that they wanted to be friends with the reagans. that was how they lived their entire lives, was making friends and social connections and moving up through political circles by melding politics and friendship. the reagans were a very isolated couple, self-isolated. they liked each others' company and, frankly, not a lot of other people. and so consequently, they really never reciprocated the overtures and the friendship and the warmth that the bushes put towards them, especially nancy and mrs. reagan. susan: in fact, they were only invited to the white house a few
times during the -- is that right? myra: well, they were only invited to the family quarters a few times. they were certainly at the white house many times for ceremonial occasions. but there was a level of tension between the two of them. susan: and what about between the first and second ladies. how did they get along? myra: i think they worked pretty well together. they had the sense that they were working towards the same goal. of course, they also had very divergent interests. nancy reagan was talking about anti-drug measures, and barbara bush was focusing on literacy. so their paths diverged. susan: gary robinson wants to know, besides family, what confidants did barbara have? and did she rely on anyone special to help guide her through political life? myra: she did count on lee atwater, who had been the head of the republican national committee for a while and was the chairman of the republican national committee when george bush ran for president in 1980.
he was a confidant. i'm trying to think if she had others outside the family. she certainly has a network of good friends and certainly relied on those people, as well. susan: john henry, looking at the vice presidential years, has this question about, can you talk about the whereabouts of both the vice president and mrs. bush on the day he almost assumed the presidency? that's march 30, 1981, the day that there was the attempt -- the attempted assassination on president reagan. jeffrey: this is actually something that was not only an illustrative story about president bush, it also helped solidify his relationship ultimately with president reagan, because then-vice president bush was back in texas when reagan was shot and immediately, of course, got on a plane and flew back. and we have to remember that the communication technology was not as good as it was then. air force two, for example, had no way to directly communicate
with the ground except through radio through the pilots, through their cockpit. consequently, then-vice president bush didn't know entirely what had happened to president reagan, didn't know exactly what was going on. by the time he landed at andrews air force base, it was very clear that the president had survived the shooting and was in surgery. and he immediately went to the white house, but made an extraordinarily important subtle distinction and subtle decision. he said, "i'm not going to take a helicopter to the white house, because only the president lands on the south lawn. i'm instead going to take more time, and i'm going to take my limo and drive up that way, as the vice president would." and so at that very moment that alexander haig, then-secretary of state, is running around the white house saying, "i'm in charge," and thereby offending nancy reagan and usurping of presidential authority -- because he wasn't in charge -- vice president bush was
essentially being the calmer man and the more respectful man of then still the president reagan, who of course was still alive. and this left a lasting impression on reagan. he really solidified his own relationship with reagan as a consequence. susan: brian watkins on twitter wants to know specifically, what was mrs. bush's experience like during the aftermath of the assassination attempt? do we know? myra: there's not much written about it that i'm aware of. susan: ok. then we will move onto another question. this is from mark, who is watching us in detroit. hi, mark. >> hi, good evening. how are you? susan: good, thank you. what's your question for us? >> my question is, what was first lady barbara bush's opinion of the clintons during the 1992 campaign? because i was in high school back then, and it seems like it was such a dramatic shift in first ladies between her and hillary clinton. it sort of reminded me of mamie eisenhower and jacqueline kennedy, in terms of polar opposites. susan: ok, thank you. myra: well, barbara bush had trouble understanding how anyone could elect bill clinton. she felt that her husband had done a superb job as president
and deserved re-election. and along came the governor of arkansas, and there were disclosures about his having had an affair. she just could not understand how people would go ahead and elect him. as far as hillary clinton went, she thought she was bright, she thought she was sharp, but she -- barbara bush did not entirely know how to deal with her, because she really was someone different. so there was a certain level of discomfort with both of them. jeffrey: this difference is really quite crucial, because there is a real cultural shift, even a generational shift going on in america at this time, that barbara bush was from a generation where a traditional woman's role was to stay home and raise the kids and support her husband's career. hillary clinton did not come from that model.
and consequently, barbara bush had really sort of inadvertently waded into this transformation in american society through the time that she was first lady when it became essentially a politicized issue, whether or not a woman had chosen to stay home, whether she had that choice, whether she chose to go out into the workplace, and then being confronted with a woman who clearly had taken other choices really left the two of them, hillary and barbara, at odds, not so much with each other personally, but ideologically. they were from two different worlds. susan: was the 1988 campaign, again, a highly competitive open seat that brought the bushes into the white house -- and i'm wondering it was a very difficult campaign. the willie horton ads, for example, that the bush campaign employed. dukakis and senator bentsen, who had an earlier role in the story, were the challengers. some history books suggest that barbara bush was very much involved and supportive, as was son george w. bush in its strategy to employ the willie horton campaign to be tough. do you know that empirically?
myra: i've heard it perhaps apocryphally. there are certainly sources that say that both she and george w. bush had gone to george h.w. bush and said, if you don't toughen up, you're not going to win this race, so go ahead with the willie horton ad. susan: and ultimately, successful. they reached the white house. and it's interesting to note -- we were talking about this before we started -- we're doing this program live on the 20th of january, 2014, and it is today exactly the 25th anniversary of the bushes coming into the white house. the bush years -- and we have, as we do in each of these programs, a still of the important things that happened during those four years in the white house just to put it on the record books. and they include his "no new taxes" pledge.
the savings-and-loan crisis also happened during that time period. of course, the first iraq war, which was known as desert storm. tiananmen square also happened during that time. and for many of your interests, the end of the cold war happened during the bush years. so on the national stage, so much going on. what was happening domestically during that time period? myra: a lot of social upheaval. jeffrey alluded to it with the changes in society and the role of women. hillary clinton becomes the first lady later, but first lady aspirant who had gone to graduate school, having graduated from yale university. just a very different time. susan: and did barbara bush get involved in any of the debates over changing society, such as abortion, rights for women,
gays, and gender equality, that sort of thing? myra: well, she stayed away from the abortion issue. many years later, in a televised interview, she came forth and pretty much came out and said that she'd been pro-choice all along, but certainly she stayed away from it. when george bush had become ronald reagan's vice presidential candidate, both barbara and george had had to take a few steps back from their positions with regard to family planning. and she didn't speak about it. she felt that, certainly, gays should have rights. she was sympathetic. she was sympathetic to what was happening with the aids holocaust, but she wasn't particularly verbal about it.
you know, she was there, she was talking about it, but her participation was somewhat muted. jeffrey: well, and i don't think that we should let her role in the aids crisis go unmentioned, because she did a dramatic thing when she was only in her first weeks of being first lady. and she went to an aids orphanage and held up an aids baby, who subsequently died several weeks later. and the picture of a first lady holding an infant with aids was really quite shocking to people at the time, back at the time when people thought that people with aids should be shunned or should be put away. and consequently, this human-loving moment for her, of holding a baby, of holding somebody who needed help really helped people understand better that aids was not only not just a death warrant, but also not something that people needed to be shunned for. it was really a remarkably important cultural moment. susan: next up is william in hallandale. what state are you in, william? >> i'm in florida.
susan: welcome to the program. what's your question? >> thank you so much. and i've been enjoying your series so much, too. it was actually about what you were just talking about. i had recalled when barbara bush had attended ryan white's funeral. i also recall when the aids quilt was in the mall near the white house, when neither she or the president visited it or acknowledged it. but i do recall that she put candles in the window of the white house. and i was wondering if you could explain to me why they didn't visit, and if you want to elaborate further about what she did with people with aids, i would appreciate that, too. thank you. susan: thank you for your call. myra: i think it was a political decision, because it was the first few weeks of the administration. i'm not sure that they even knew entirely what their position was
yet. but she felt strongly about showing some support. and that led to her action of putting the candle into the windows and then, of course, the very symbolic act of going to -- i think it was mother's place -- and holding the aids baby at time when people weren't sure about the transmission of the disease. jeffrey: and she was always very, very good at making solid political statements quietly, holding a baby, putting a candle in a window, and her rationale, for example, of ultimately explaining that she was pro-choice was that she was not in favor of abortions, but she thought this is something that should be between a mother and a father and a doctor and the government didn't have a role in this. and so she was very, very keen to sort of set boundaries for
where the government should intervene. and she wanted to take moral stands, but without interfering with her husband's political career, so she would them through very subtle, but strong statements. susan: we are talking about domestic issues. since today is martin luther king day in the united states, can you ask if barbara dealt with any race issues? what did she do it as first lady about race? was it an issue that she got publicly involved in? myra: not to my knowledge. no. susan: next is dennis and wisconsin. >> how are you? thank you so much for having this series. this is wonderful. during the 1980 campaign, i had a political radio show in california and i got to interview george and barbara bush. i asked her what her relationship was with the reagans. she said they were friends, good friends. my question is -- what was their
relationship once they got into the vice presidency? and then second, did she encourage her kids to go into politics? thank you again. myra: we covered this a little bit earlier. they had a cordial relationship, but not a warm relationship. it was a working relationship. i think george bush and ronald reagan were closer than nancy reagan and barbara bush. barbara bush did not recommend that her children go into politics. when george w. bush came to his parents and told them he was going to run for the governorship of texas, barbara tried to talk him out of it. the same thing happened when he decided to make a run for the presidency. i think we will discuss barbara has been not a particular fan of the idea of jeb running in 2016. susan: so, barbara bush became the public face of the bush administration. she spent a lot of time on the road. was that time spent talking about literacy? her what she involved in
political aspects of the presidency? how did she use her time on the road? myra: -- christopher: she becomes more popular in terms of public perception than the president. her political role increases as her popularity does as well. susan: what was the source of her popularity? jeffrey: i think people could relate to her. that looks like somebody i know. there is a wonderful advertisement for a furniture sale where someone says, get nancy reagan furniture at barbara bush prices. barbara bush was a rich woman. she could afford a lot, but she had this image of being somebody -- myra: people felt like they could sit down and have a cup of
coffee with her. susan: this is either a political sense or and and eight sense of self. advisers were saying, you need to lose weight, dye your hair. she said you can do anything but make me lose weight or down my hair. the public responded to that. what was the dynamic their? myra: it was very much an everywoman kind of persona. people really could relate to her. because she was not a size two. as nancy reagan. because she dressed nicely but maybe not in the same high-style. she seemed like someone you could talk to.