New York, N.Y.–It isn’t often in New York that I find myself in a room with lots of women who agree with me. At the “W Stands for Women” event at the Waldorf on Monday afternoon, surrounded by over a thousand Bush loyalists, I realized I hadn’t been with so many like-minded women since I attended the first Beatles concert at Carnegie Hall, and we all thought they were the cutest things we’d ever seen.
The “W Stands for Women” program turned out to be a fairly rousing affair. The featured speakers were “W Stands for Women” coordinator Cathy Gillespie and two mother-and-daughter power teams: Barbara and Doro Bush and Lynne and Liz Cheney. Also on stage were the Bush babes, twins Jenna and Barbara. They didn’t speak, saving their hamster jibe for the convention floor I suppose. But they looked pretty and hip in funky tops and spiked heels, giggling as their grandmother teased them. Obviously young Republican fashionistas wear stilettos, not flip-flops.
Barbara Bush, shrewd as usual, provided the crowd with a bit of family dish. She said she and George had taken the girls to the Olympics and she had to keep telling them to “keep their hair out of their eyes, stand up straight, pick up their room, and be on time.” Still, the twins were such a hit that “the entire American wrestling team wanted to date them.” It was pretty obvious grandma put a stop to that.
She also gave some insight into how she deals with the “untrue things that are said” about her oldest son, something she knows would bother any mother, especially when the criticism is dished out on the nightly news. “I don’t watch anymore. It raises my blood pressure.” Instead, she said, “I do needlepoint and listen to books on tape. But George feels he has to listen to every word, and spends his evenings cursing and occasionally throwing things at the television set.” Once in a while, she acknowledged, some things do get through to her and she wants to “give them a piece of my mind. But I would never do that. As George would say, ‘Wouldn’t be prudent.’”
Lynne Cheney got her big laugh when she explained there was no real title for the wife of the vice president but that her very young granddaughter had come up with a good one. When the little girl was in California visiting her other grandmother, she was told that grandma Lynne had once run out of gas driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge. But the little girl was confused about which grandma had done that. The California grandma or the Washington grandma? Finally, she understood: “Oh, you mean the Grandmother of the United States.”
Okay, it was girl talk. But women love girl talk; this crowd certainly did. And too bad if the guys don’t understand. As Bill Cosby once said, women don’t really want to hear what men think. They want to hear what women think but in a deeper voice.
Republicans should remember that. Many in the party claim the same issues are equally important to men and women, and that’s true. But most women like to hear them talked about in very different ways. They like any discussion, no matter how serious, to be interspersed with personal anecdotes, with the acknowledgement of emotions, and laced with self-deprecating humor–the kind Barbara Bush, especially, employs so well.
Barbara Bush also talked about her daughter-in-law, declaring, “Everybody knows that Laura Bush is wonderful. The most generous, soothing, smartest person I know. Able to handle her husband–and her mother-in-law–with grace and humor.” Laura, I think, did a good job at the convention on Tuesday night, just by being the pleasant, loyal Laura we expect to see.
Now some in the media sort of have a crush on Teresa Heinz Kerry. Bill O’Reilly, for one, claims he likes her, he really likes her. Not surprising. With her multi-lingual self-obsession, fiery outbursts, and the ability to change her mind even about her own cookie recipe, Teresa the Portugese Firecracker can make sizzling copy.
The media, we know, love gossip and live on controversy, and it’s easy to make news when you’re in the spotlight. It is much harder not to make news. Laura Bush must have enormous self-discipline to remain as uncontroversial and low-key as she has these past years.
Recently, the president’s poll numbers have been going up among independent men. But not yet with women. Improving the president’s standing with independent women voters may turn out to be key in this election. At the moment, a lot of women who are independents are mad at George Bush, like a boyfriend they really like but who has done some things that made them really annoyed. John Kerry is the new blind date, but not one they are particularly attracted to. A lot of them could be convinced to give Barbara’s son and Laura’s husband another chance. As long as he and his party can tell them in the right way why they are better off staying with him.