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Barbara Bush: “Beautiful Mind” or “Amazing Racist”? Maybe Both.

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The matriarch of the Bush family dynasty died Tuesday night at the age of 92, surrounded by the very loved ones she fiercely protected in life. The tributes immediately began pouring in Wednesday morning from all ends of the political spectrum, many of which celebrated her strength – and no doubt, she was strong. But no human lives an unstained life and Barbara Bush publicly displayed her fair share of faults.

The Bush presidential dynasty. Photo courtesy of VOA News

As the second woman in U.S. history to serve as both First Lady and mother of an acting president (shout out to Abigail Adams and the plea to her husband to “remember the ladies”), her family loyalty, good deeds and disastrous missteps were well documented. Yes, she used her position to advance her Foundation for Family Literacy and supported numerous charities for things like housing and cancer research. She served as an adviser and confidante to people from the left and right. She was sometimes noted for her humorous jabs but she was largely defined by her unflinching family devotion.

However, as Fresno State University professor Randa Jarrar is attacked by angry mobs for voicing (a.k.a. tweeting) her pleasure in Bush’s death, calling her an “amazing racist”, we’re forced to look at the former First Lady’s legacy as a whole, and folks, it ain’t all that great.

Randa Jarrar Twitter screenshot courtesy of the Fresno Bee

My grandmother used to scan the obituaries as a way of “catching up with old friends” and she would often shake her head in disgust at how terrible people (in her opinion) were celebrated postmortem. “If they were assholes in life, they’re still assholes in death.” So, I guess the question is: Was Barbara Bush an asshole enough to warrant such harsh words?

The answer largely depends on who you talk to, but Bush did leave some nasty marks on her own history that cannot be erased by mass media’s cherry picking of facts. Here are two examples of what may have ruffled Jarrar’s feathers:

  • After Barbara Bush visited the Astrodome where Hurricane Katrina refugees were being temporarily housed in a sea of cots, she was interviewed on the public radio show “Marketplace” and was quoted as saying, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.”
  • On March 18, 2003, Diane Sawyer interviewed Barbara Bush on “Good Morning America” regarding her son’s impending Iraq invasion. In her words: “But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

Message boards for Hurricane Katrina refugees at Astrodome. Photo courtesy of KHOU11

Child sleeping on a cot in the Astrodome where Hurricane Katrina victims were temporarily housed. Photo courtesy of KHOU11

So there you have it and you can judge for yourself whether the late First Lady should be celebrated or condemned. Maybe you’ll choose to do neither and see her as imperfect person that had both glowing and tarnished days in the spotlight. What you can’t do is alter history and her impact on it – the good, bad or the ugly. It is what it is, and she was what she was.

Barbara Bush. Photo courtesy of CBS News

But yes, she was strong.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.