By Amanda Sandlin
Rider professor Dr. Myra Gutin spoke about her book, Barbara Bush: Presidential Matriarch, when she was invited to speak as part of the Women’s History Month Book Signing Series in Washington, D.C., last week.
On March 16, Gutin, a professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism, spoke at Ketchum Hall in the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States building on Capitol Hill just across from the U.S. Supreme Court building. Other authors participating in the series included Kristie Miller, Barbara A. Perry and Maurine Beasley, all of whom wrote about First Ladies.
Gutin’s main focus was on Bush’s crusade against illiteracy, which the professor described as a success.
“She made good on that promise,” Gutin said. “At the time that I had written the book, they had given away $16 million in grants.”
According to Gutin, Bush’s ability to connect with the public “put a human face on literacy.”
“About 18 percent of Mrs. Bush’s speeches were devoted to her project on literacy,” she said. “She was a voice for the program.”
Her strength as a communicator did not come easily though, Gutin said. It was a trait that Bush had to work hard to attain.
“I would have to say generally that she was active, but she was also cautious as a First Lady,” Gutin said. “She never wanted to put herself in a position where it was going to take George Bush’s political capital to clean up her mess.”
As independently as she stood, Bush wanted to clarify to the American public that she was not Nancy Reagan, former First Lady, Gutin said. She noted that Bush realized that she appealed to a much different audience.
“She was doing an event in Washington and Mrs. Bush says, ‘My mail tells me there are a lot of fat white-haired ladies that are tickled pink that I’m going to be First Lady,’” Gutin recalled.
Gutin also reminded the audience that Bush was the earliest First Lady to deal with press coverage around the clock. She had a decent relationship with the media because Bush understood how they worked.
“I found something in her memoir, where she said something that everyone in the public life has to understand. It’s that ‘the press has the last word,’” said Gutin.
Over time, Gutin said that Bush became more popular than her husband. People began making buttons that read, “I’m voting for Barbara’s husband.” George H.W. Bush began using phrases such as “Barbara and I think,” or “Barbara and I feel,” Gutin explained.
Ultimately, the lack of wider support for President Bush led to the demise of his presidency. Even though his wife fought to keep him in the White House, it just wasn’t enough.
“During that campaign she gave 61 formal speeches, but she was busy with phone banks and cheering on volunteers,” Gutin said. “She said to people, ‘We need George Bush’s Texas.’ The country did not agree, and they left Barbara Bush with a very, very sour taste in her mouth.”