September 7th, 2006

VDB’s Lurid and Shocking Confession: “I Hooked Up With Barbara Bush at the Sheraton Hotel — On My Lunch Hour!”

by Philip Baruth

So, yes, technically the headline is true: VDB was there in the Sheraton Ballroom this noon, to see former First Lady Barbara Bush lend her support to GOP hopeful Martha Rainville.

And it was an eye-opener.

GOP events are an entirely different animal from their Democratic counter-parts: nearly all the men in blue or black jackets and careful ties, nearly all of the women in tailored suits and heels and first-rate hair styles.

And given the star attraction, this was a decidedly older crowd, the reverent sort who swooned over photos of Ron and Nancy dancing cheek to cheek in evening clothes back in the mid-80’s.

But it wasn’t so much the clothing as the prevailing customs that set the two political worlds so dramatically apart.

The Barbara Bush event began with the singing of the national anthem; followed by the Pledge of Allegiance; followed by a moment of silence for soldiers killed in action; all of this followed finally by an actual Invocation, a longish prayer which managed to observe, along the way, that “God has blessed us with the entire Bush family.”

It wasn’t any one of these little rituals singly that stood out, but their cumulative effect on the crowd. It was a good bit more order and saluting and head-bowing than you’d get in a month of Democratic Sundays.

BabsAnd so by the time Barbara Bush walked stiffly to the podium, the crowd was perfectly primed for her opening joke: before the applause had had a chance to build, she made a mock-stern signal for quiet, then quipped in the sudden silence, “They also call me the enforcer.”

And it was a good ice-breaker.

But it was also, in another way, as true as true can be: these audience members were more than ready to distinguish themselves by their obedience, and no one knows this upper-hand better than the 81-year-old Bush, who, as she noted, has been tuning up Republican crowds for four long decades.

Of course, forty years is long enough to know her own place in the hierarchy: after her take-charge opening, the First Lady spent the bulk of her remarks on her husband George Sr., and referred to George Jr. exclusively as “our President.” She talked at substantial length about houseguests at Kennebunkport — the anxiety over clean towels and sheets — and the trials and tribulations of grandchildren.

Only very belatedly did she turn to the business at hand, electing Martha Rainville.

Rainville, Bush noted, was just the sort of candidate for a “strong, independent state” like Vermont, because she was willing to speak her mind, take risks, not follow the crowd. In fact, Mrs. Bush confided, “the White House asked me to come today,” because they were so concerned about the need for an honest-to-God maverick in Vermont’s lone House seat.

Which is ironic, to say the very least.

The White House is backing Rainville not because she’s a critic of White House policy, of course, but because she’s a supporter; not because she seeks to call out the Republican leadership on runaway spending and earmarks, but because she knows how to touch very politely on the issue without naming names; not because she has called for Rumsfeld’s head, but because she is willing to defend publicly his right to keep it.

rummy man walking

And that last is a particularly sore spot with VDB.

Rainville has admitted, in highly elliptical terms, that Rumsfeld has not distinguished himself in the course of the War. She has noted, for instance, that the SecDef has done a great deal of good for the military — “especially prior to Iraq,” one of the most devastatingly backhanded compliments in Vermont history.

But she continues to suggest that any criticism of Rumsfeld, any call for his ouster, has more to do with irresponsible politics than with any fault of Rumsfeld’s policies and post-invasion pratfalls.

In response to Peter Welch’s press conference yesterday, calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation, Rainville issued a statement which read, in part: “Secretary Rumsfeld has made many mistakes in the planning and implementation of military operations in Iraq. There have been serious failures that have hindered progress from the beginning.”

Think about that line: There have been serious failures that have hindered progress from the beginning.

But having admitted that Rumsfeld has failed in a “serious way,” Rainville turns on a political dime, and refuses to make the clear connection to responsibility, to accountability: “Now is not the time for partisan gamesmanship.”

In other words, Peter Welch and the Democrats are the problem, ultimately, not the man who all but singlehandedly “hindered progress from the beginning.”

In short, Rainville seems content thus far to let a misguided and ineffectual civilian leadership retain control of a misbegotten war currently spreading over one of the most explosive regions on earth.

And as a former General, she provides a very tempting fig-leaf for an Administration short on military service, and long on battlefield miscalculations.

This is why Barbara, the wily and practiced matriarch of the Bush political clan, got the call to come to Burlington.

Not to praise mavericks, but to bury them.

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  1. on October 26th, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    […] Okay, full disclosure: we were a smidgin disappointed when you guys cancelled the interview we’d spent a few months discussing. If we’d known that our coverage of the Barbara Bush event was going to queer the deal, we’d have — well, we’d have still savaged her in the post, of course. […]