WORLD

LAURA’S LIFE

She smokes. She’s pro-choice. Meet the real Mrs. G.W. Bush.

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE April 10 2006
WORLD

LAURA’S LIFE

She smokes. She’s pro-choice. Meet the real Mrs. G.W. Bush.

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE April 10 2006

LAURA’S LIFE

She smokes. She’s pro-choice. Meet the real Mrs. G.W. Bush.

No, she has not had plastic surgery or Botox injections. Yes, she is pro-choice and half her friends are Democrats. She smokes in secret, wears Cover Girl makeup, and goes camping every year with her girlfriends—once having a national park opened a day early. She hates cooking but loves to clean— especially scrubbing sinks. She reads poetry but her favourite books are about plagues. And to this day, she declines to discuss the night 42 years ago when, at age 17, she ran a stop sign in Midland, Texas, killing a high school friend.

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE

“At one point in my life, I thought I would marry a professor and lead a quiet life in academia and dig in my flower garden,” she tells one of her girlfriends in Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of America’s First Lady, an authorized biography of the reluctant political spouse due out this week from Doubleday. It didn’t work out that way.

There has always been something mysterious about Laura Bush; even in her high school yearbook she has a Mona Lisa smile. Perhaps it is the question of how a brainy young librarian ended up with him. It turns out she has a wild side—it was on display at last year’s White House correspondents’ dinner in a speech that sent jaws plunging as she called herself a “desperate housewife,” compared her mother-in-

law to a Mafia don, and cracked that her husband knew so little about ranching when they first arrived in Crawford that he tried to milk a horse—“a male horse.”

Written by Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, the fawning biography rebuts allegations made in other books that she has smoked marijuana or spoiled her daughters. And the mawkishness buys a handful of intimate nuggets. After failing to conceive for three years, and after she and George had signed up to adopt, Laura finally became pregnant with twins Jenna and Barbara thanks to fertility drugs. Her pregnancy was high-risk and she developed toxemia. “I didn’t even have the courage to walk

down the baby aisles at grocery stores,” she tells Kessler. “I was worried that I would lose one of them or maybe both of them.”

Perhaps more illuminating is that she herself was something of a miracle baby, the only surviving child of a mother who delivered “several stillborns” before and after she was born. This knowledge continued to affect her. “I felt very obligated to my parents. I didn’t want to upset them in any way,” she says. That reluctance to “upset” seems to define Laura Bush, who quietly chides or “needles” her husband into doing things her way and avoids political confronta-

SHE’S NEVER DISCUSSED THE ACCIDENT THAT KILLED A FRIEND WHEN SHE WAS 17. ‘IT WAS LIKE THE END OF THE WORLD,’ SAYS A CONFIDANTE.

tion. She refused to take an apologetic call from Teresa Heinz Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, after the latter said she never held a “real job,” because it would have kept the story alive. Instead, she had an aide pass on the message that “Mrs. Bush understands that when you talk to the media, things get quoted that you didn’t quite say or mean to say.”

Kessler argues that she wields real power, but does so quietly. He stresses that she has influenced the President to increase funding for the arts and for AIDS in Africa. He claims she has nixed at least one unnamed cabinet appointment and regularly critiques her “Bushie’s” public performances. Laura apparently hates being called a “traditional” wife—remarking that if Hillary Rodham Clinton had delivered her November 2001 presidential radio address on the oppression of Afghan women, “they would have said she was trying to take over the presidency.” Kessler tries to build up his subject by taking as many digs as possible at Rodham Clinton and Heinz Kerry, arguing that Laura is nicer to the White House help than that cold, calculating Hillary, and unlike that selfabsorbed Teresa, Laura asks that her speeches be written without using the word “I.” Laura is also neat and clean; her love of Windex rates three mentions. “When she dusts her bookshelves, she takes the books out and sprays Formula 409 on the shelves,” explains one long-time friend. “Clorox, Formula 409 and Windex are her three favorite substances.” Readers also learn that George W. is very cheap and only likes food that he can “understand.”

(When the White House chef hired by Hillary prepared a menu of wild mushrooms and organic flour arranged in pyramids for some visiting east Texas good ol’ boys, Laura fretted, “How do I tell him I

want grits?” She has since replaced the chef.)

Kessler also interviews for the first time Judy Dykes Hester, the friend who was in the car with Laura on the night of the car accident in 1963. Laura, her friend assures us, was driving soberly under the speed limit on a dark country road when the stop sign “suddenly came upon us.” The driver of the other car, a good friend of Laura’s, Michael D. Douglas, died at the scene, of a broken neck. “It was like the end of the world,” recalls Dykes Hester. Laura hasn’t discussed the accident. “It was just too painful,” writes Kessler. M