The 'Anti-Hillary'; Mrs. Bush Draws Striking Contrast

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

The 'Anti-Hillary'; Mrs. Bush Draws Striking Contrast


Byline: Joanne Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Hillary and Laura. The contrasts are endlessly striking: blonde versus brunette, policy wonk versus librarian, a betrayed wife versus America's mother. "If you ever wanted a contrast, you've got it with these two women," says Betty Winfield, a University of Missouri journalism professor.

Although they share one major characteristic - both are mothers of daughters, but not sons - Mrs. Clinton emphasizes her maiden name, "Rodham"; the current first lady never refers to "Welch."

"Mrs. Bush apparently has a much more wholesome and solid marriage." says ArLyne Diamond, Management Consultant for Diamond Associates in California. "It is based on love and respect, in addition to a political business partnership."

Some have typecast her as the "anti-Hillary" - a woman determined to be much of what Mrs. Clinton is not: noncontroversial, subordinate to her husband, determined to stay in the background.

"Hillary is an ambitious, engaged policy wonk in her own right, who happened to be married to a president," says June Sager Speakman, a professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. "Laura, on the other hand, is a librarian and mother who also happens to be married to a president."

Mrs. Bush is not much for one-liners. Even under the prompting of "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno on Feb. 11, her best lines amounted to how "it's been a really unbelievable opportunity" being the first lady during a time of terrorism.

"It's really comforting to be able to make contributions," she added.

"Laura seems to fade into the woodwork and doesn't present even a good target for pointed humor," says organizational consultant Patricia Wiklund, owner of Wiklund and Associates in Silicon Valley, Calif. "Laura is so self-effacing that it is hard to find her sometimes."

Even the Chinese were a bit perplexed during the first lady's visit last week to China.

"Hillary was always supportive of feminist causes," Xie Lihua, editor of a Chinese women's magazine told Cox News Service. "I feel Mrs. Bush in this regard doesn't have that much to really attract us. I think her dialogue is just a formality."

America is interested in the 55-year-old longtime companion to George W. Bush, but how does one view a former librarian who has shied away from the public eye and hasn't had her own career since she married in 1977? She is not even the most powerful woman in America, according to Ladies Home Journal, who awards that distinction to talk-show diva Oprah Winfrey.

"Laura Bush gave speeches on education, but kept out of the limelight for the most part until September 11. Now she is out there more, but still she's in a helpmate role," says Judith Trent, professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati.

The first book on Mrs. Bush will be published in March, 15 months into her husband's presidency. "Laura: America's First Lady, First Mother" is described by author Antonia Felix as "steady, down to earth, intelligent and passionate about the things she cares about."

"She is not quite as traditional as most would think," the author says, "as she didn't get married until she was 31." The author was unable to get access to the first lady herself and was reduced to relying on Jenna Welch, Laura's mother, and others from her hometown.

The first lady's office says Mrs. Bush has yet to respond to the many book-interview requests she has received.

The role of first lady can be difficult, requiring a delicate balance to avoid criticism of too much or too little involvement in the nation's business. …

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