Why Laura Bush isn't a modern girl's best friend

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The Independent US

Oh how they drooled in the hall and dabbed their eyes when George W Bush appeared on the satellite link from Ohio to praise his wife's convention address. "Seeing her grace and strength," he said adoringly on Monday night, "reminded me of how much I love her."

Oh how they drooled in the hall and dabbed their eyes when George W Bush appeared on the satellite link from Ohio to praise his wife's convention address. "Seeing her grace and strength," he said adoringly on Monday night, "reminded me of how much I love her."

Isn't this just what every woman wants to hear, the reassurance of a doting husband? And didn't Laura Bush look just lovely: her hair neatly bobbed, her make-up just so, a Colgate smile punctuating every paragraph, and her skirt decorously just on the knee? "So nice to see a woman in a real suit these days, not a polyester pantsuit," they said appreciatively. "A real lady."

Has it really come to this? After eight years of Hillary Clinton - yes, it was her "pantsuits" the Republican ladies had in their sights - America may be on the verge of electing a man who will give the country the sort of First Lady it feels comfortable with. A wholesome wife and mother, a clone of Mrs Bush's mother-in-law, Barbara Bush; a woman who, according to her convention speech revelation - wait for this - dreamed of becoming a teacher from her second year of primary school.

Laura is homely - she gave up work when she married (and the Bush family money meant that she could afford to). She is modest: as a teacher, many of her pupils came into her class unable to read "and frankly I'm not sure I was very good at teaching them".

And Laura - praise be, sings the anti-Hillary chorus - is without ambition. In one of many interviews she gave in the run-up to the convention, she dismissed the idea that she gave George any political advice, ever. She might venture a view on education, she said, which she knew about, but otherwise, she was more of a sounding board for " his ideas".

Left to itself, and Laura, the Republican Party could win back the White House, and set back the advancement of women. Of course, Mrs Bush did obeisance in her speech to the notion of a woman as president: "A President of the United States is more than a man - or a woman, as I hope the case will sometime be." But it was a "politically correct" line that jarred with the rest.

In wearing pale green, Mrs Bush Jnr was also making a statement of a sort: her mother-in-law, she said at the weekend, had advised her to wear vivid colours. By flouting the advice she had made public, she was clearly signalling her independence. But what price independence that stops at suit colours?

There is a flicker of hope, though, that Laura Bush may not be the future of Republican womanhood. While the (few) Republican females in the convention hall lapped up her performance, the muffled word "Stepford wife" - the fictitious women changed into automata by the conformism of American suburbia - could be heard. On the internet, there was as much scorn for Laura as there were "Wows!".

In what may be a harbinger of change, a group of (mostly younger) Republicans have formed a new group, called "RightNow" - a play on the name of the left-orientated National Women's Organisation (Now) - which is about to post its own website, sassily entitled "GOPchicks.com".

With more Republican women active in the professions and dissidents emerging on such surefire issues for the party as abortion and gays, their future may be more diverse than the images of the two Mrs Bushes, Barbara and Laura, might suggest. Here's hoping.

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