If there’s more to the 43rd president’s spouse than appears in this surface-scratching biography, Washington Post Style reporter Gerhart ain’t telling.
The material for this profile of Laura Bush was gathered from Bush herself, as well as from friends and acquaintances. They are (surprise) a protective lot. The First Lady is not one to offer opinions: “ ‘If I differ from my husband,’ she once tartly told a reporter, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ ” In Gerhart’s glib depiction, Bush is accommodating and graceful, traditional and placid—“serene order,” the author suggests, hovers about her—serving as a counterpoint to her husband’s loose-cannon antics. She ran a stop sign when she was 17 and hit another car, killing a friend (an incident that taught her caution and compassion, says Gerhart), but there’s little else here of substance about Bush’s early years: “Doing what ‘really traditional women do’ means selling short those years before your marriage,” the author suggests. The nub of it all, according to Gerhart, is that Laura Bush is “serious about her marriage.” She would “do the emotional toting and lifting . . . while the man busied himself out in the greater world.” Then there is the rub: “She wanted to be needed . . . being needed felt purposeful and satisfying because her husband’s happiness and success were possibly more important than her own.” This seems poignantly close to self-immolation, an opinion reinforced by such comments as, “I don't do anything I don't want to do.” The author grasps at straws, but even these Bush keeps neatly bundled away; she is the classic solid that melts into air. In overcompensation, Gerhart is all too obvious, cooing and cutting lots of slack, as when she refers to their $1.2-million Texas spread as a “modest home.”
Cracking the ancient runes would be easier than trying to get under the skin of Laura Bush.