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Barbara Bush and the Broccoli Vote

Former First Lady Barbara Bush speaks during the Republican National Convention’s “W Stands for Women” rally at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, August 30, 2004. (Chip East/Reuters)

Since the death of Barbara Bush, one of America’s most beloved first ladies, there have been countless tributes to her wit, tenacity, and, most of all, compassion. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Bush, I do have a fond memory of her time in office. In 1990, her husband, President George H. W. Bush, famously banned broccoli from Air Force One. At a press conference in March, he declared that he had disliked broccoli since he was a child, and that as president, he had no intention of eating the stuff ever again. His comments wounded me. Broccoli was just about the only vegetable I was willing to eat in those days, and it is still one of my favorites. My carnivorous bent aside, there are few meals I enjoy more than a heaping pile of broccoli topped up with melted butter and garlic salt.

So you can imagine how dismayed I was by the president’s remarks. At the time, Bush was wildly popular, with an approval rating that routinely climbed above 70 percent, and this was before the dizzying success of Operation Desert Storm. Yet here was one of the most esteemed men in the world taking potshots at a much-maligned cruciferous delicacy, which had done him no harm — indeed, which likely did him a great deal of good as a youth, when his mother wisely compelled him to eat many forkfuls of it. Would Bush have grown up to an ace fighter pilot, a celebrated diplomat, and an able chief executive had he not eaten broccoli as a child? Almost certainly not. His ingratitude towards broccoli rankled, and it still does. He did, however, have a saving grace, namely that he married noted broccoli-lover Barbara Bush. When asked if he feared losing the “broccoli vote” (sign me up for the Super PAC mailing list, please), Bush added that, “for the broccoli vote out there, Barbara loves broccoli. She’s tried to make me eat it, she eats it all the time herself.” And that’s when I decided she was my kind of person. R.I.P.

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