Barbara Bush sets a strong example for future US politicians to replicate
Throughout her time as the matriarch of one of the United States' greatest political dynasties, the late Barbara Bush and the country her family helped lead changed quite a bit.
Some may disagree with the politics of Barbara and her husband, former President George H. W. Bush, but the one constant throughout their lives was their ability to adjust as the country changed with them.
Barbara exemplified this attribute most uniquely, never pushing back against the turbulent world, but learning from it and changing it for the better.
Born in upstate New York in 1925, Barbara would marry George when she was just 19 years old, while he was on leave for his tour during the second World War. Together they would have six children. Their son Robin Bush would be lost at the young age of three due to his ongoing fight with leukemia.
For Barbara, the death was difficult to parse. In a series of interviews she did for a soon-to-be-released biography, author Susan Page describes how the death changed the Bush family’s relationship for the better, and how the family grew stronger because of it.
The former first lady, standing firmly beside her husband, would prove to be an influential mother and leader.
One of only two first ladies in history to raise a child who would also become president, she also became a leading advocate for children battling leukemia and illiteracy, after her other son, Neil Bush, was diagnosed with dyslexia.
For Barbara, public service was never about what she wanted but what the position was expected to be: a platform to do good.
Barbara was an instrumental adviser to her husband and contributed greatly to some of his progressive-leaning beliefs.
They campaigned against homelessness because of Barbara, and after winning the election, she advocated on behalf of Dr. Louis Sullivan, who was the only black person to join her husband’s cabinet.
She also famously forced her husband to visit an AIDS clinic in New Orleans that convinced him to provide public funds for the disease, whereas former President Ronald Reagan had notably refused. Flexibility of the mind was a keen attribute of the late first lady.
In an interview she conducted in 2015 with historian Jon Meacham and The Atlantic’s Timothy Naftali, Barbara initiated an impactful discussion on then President Barack Obama’s appointment of a transgender individual within his administration.
Barbara, whom one could easily pigeonhole as an ideologue of a bygone era, was true to her conservative form — at first. She did not disagree with the appointment, only with its grandiose announcement in comparison to the appointments of heterosexual administration members by the Obamas.
Naftali politely attempted to counter her, highlighting the importance of the announcement for the LGBTQ community.
Any recognition, he argued, especially from the White House, could give a much-needed confidence boost to a community often looked down upon and it could positively impact how the rest of society views it. Naftali noted that, at the time, Barbara did not seem convinced.
A few weeks later, however, Meacham received a note from Barbara regarding their sit down. The note read, “I so enjoyed the lunch and Tim won the argument or he changed my mind about so much. Transgenders are born that way … Please tell him that at 90 I learned a lot from our lunch."
Barbara's flexibility of mind and her willingness to reconsider some of her long-held beliefs at 90 years old has set an incredible example for all to follow. Today, alternative facts — perpetrated most egregiously by the current U.S. President Donald Trump and media silos — have allowed too many people of all ages to wall themselves off into their own ideological echo chambers.
Allowing one’s own opinions or beliefs to be tailored, over time, by the lived experiences and beliefs of other people is not only desirable but also a vital function of an evolving society. When this process fails, people are unable to forge middle grounds or come together over any shared ideals, something similar to the hyperpolarization that is currently crippling Congress.
Barbara set the standard. At 90 years old, she could still have a rational and informative discussion with others that would change her mind and refine her perspective.
It may seem trivial to alter one person’s opinion, but if this happens on a large scale, it will lead to real, concrete change in society over time.