The Corner

U.S.

RIP Barbara Bush, 1925-2018

2000-Barbara Bush speaks to the crowd with former president George H.W. Bush and their son, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush (left) at a concert by the Bellamy Brothers, January 29, 2000. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Barbara Bush has died, at the age of 92. She was very much a woman of her time and place, which have since passed away, and led the sort of life that the 21st century is ill-equipped to memorialize. But it was quite a life, one that left its mark on America and (more importantly, to Mrs. Bush) on her family, and a life she ultimately left in peace. She was a lady of the old school, but of the sort who should not be mistaken for a shrinking violet: strong-willed and sharp-tongued, nobody ever doubted that she was a formidable presence of her own.

Barbara Pierce Bush was a distant relation of our famously unsuccessful 14th president, Franklin Pierce (they were descended from a common ancestor) and was raised as a conventional upper-crust WASP in Rye, New York (in Westchester County), in the years of Depression and war. She married George H. W. Bush on January 6, 1945, when he was still active in the wartime Navy but assigned to a training post after having been shot down over the Pacific; he was 20, she was 19, and they started a family immediately. After he graduated Yale, she followed him to Midland, Texas, a world away from their privileged New England upbringings, to share the hardships and risks together as he pursued his fortune in the oil business.  They would ultimately make that fortune, but there would be trying times along the way, and they lost a daughter at age 3 to cancer in 1953, a tragedy that left a permanent mark on George, Barbara, and their oldest son, George W.

Unlike her husband, who would always be more a skilled diplomat and organization man than a gladhander, Barbara raised two sons who would go on to considerable political success: both George W. and Jeb would become two-term governors of traditionally Democratic states (in 1994 and 1998), and at this writing, neither state has gone back to the Democrats since. Overall, in her lifetime, the Bush family went 3-2 in Republican presidential primaries and 4-1 in national elections, an admirable record notwithstanding its spectacular failures in 1992 and 2016. I met her once, for a photo op in 1992, when the Bush campaign was adrift enough to send the First Lady to Massachusetts. As I noted on Twitter the other day, my last, vivid memory of Barbara Bush is a photo of her doggedly pushing her walker through the snows of New Hampshire to campaign for Jeb’s already-doomed presidential bid:

Political success was only one marker of the strong family that Mrs. Bush nurtured. That wasn’t always easy to do, raising children with so many advantages they could take them for granted; as George W. said in his convention speech in 2000, “Growing up, she gave me love and lots of advice. I gave her white hair.”

Her generation was more reserved than ours, even to the end: The family statement the other day about her abandoning further medical treatment never explicitly said she was dying or how, not that the former needed to be said out loud or that the latter mattered much, at the age of 92.

Like most people in politics — and in life — Mrs. Bush was human and fallible; her acid wit and fierce loyalty to her family sometimes led her to insensitivities, political gaffes, and misjudgments. She was out of step with demonstrative social conservatives and populist enthusiasms. But she always lived by the values of her time and her social class: love of country, devotion to family, loyalty to those who are loyal in return, and an obligation to public service. And as she approached the end, she was happy to tell anyone who would listen — in her own, dignified way — that she was ready to move on to her eternal reward.

Rest in Peace.

Dan McLaughlin is an attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation in New York City, and a contributing columnist at National Review Online.

Most Popular

White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
World

Is America Becoming Sinicized?

A little over 40 years ago, Chinese Communist strongman and reformer Deng Xiaoping began 15 years of sweeping economic reforms. They were designed to end the disastrous, even murderous planned economy of Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. The results of Deng’s revolution astonished the world. In four decades, ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More