Having enjoyed George Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, I was anxious to hear Laura’s side of the story in her book, Spoken from the Heart. It was even better than I’d expected, and if Laura really wrote it herself, I’m impressed. It was a huge book, yet it didn’t drag and I found it compelling throughout. Thoughts:
- I enjoyed Laura’s tales of her childhood. It was surprising how much life has changed since those days: Laura mentions smoking and drinking in her youth (saying pretty much everyone in her town of Midland, TX did) — seems out-of-character for her! She also says that kids got their licenses at 14, and this leads into the tragic car accident where she was driving when she killed a classmate and friend. I felt so bad for her as she went through her thought process. She didn’t visit the dead boy’s parents, feeling that they would not want to see her. Yet she has felt guilty about that for years since.
- I also felt sad for Laura, who always wanted siblings. Her mom did have 3 other children after Laura, but all died at birth. So sad, and a reminder at how far medicine has come since then. I think most if not all of those babies would have made it today. But, Laura and her parents were a close unit and it was wonderful to read about their long car trips, her mom’s delicious cooking, and her mom’s intelligence. She sounds like a woman before her time!
- Laura was just a normal girl, but her fortunes took a big upward slope when she married George Bush, Midland’s “most eligible bachelor.” I like Laura and I like the Bushes, but still it was amazing to read about the opportunities that come when you’re around powerful people. When Laura is in the hospital having her twins, her dad visits and complains about his shoulder hurting. Immediately, a relative has him go down the hall for an x-ray that diagnoses cancer. Laura and the twins get to fly home on a private plane. George’s oil job takes them on various overseas trips. When the elder Bushes are in the White House, both as Pres. and Vice-Pres., the younger Bushes get to go to State Dinners and other functions. George likes baseball, and so he and some buddies “pitch in” to buy a millions-of-dollars professional team. That kind of thing comes up all the time, and it’s fascinating to read how the “other half” lives!
- Throughout, Laura offers insightful thoughts. When her dad develops dementia, he’s asked who was the last president. It was George Bush, Laura’s father-in-law — yet her dad had no idea. Laura pondered how fleeting our lives are: our memories, our moments — how four years in the White House and the millions of still photos and tens of thousands of hours of videotape that accumulate from the highest levels of a political career can just vanish amid the death of brain cells. George H W Bush was one of the most recognized men on the planet in the year 1990, and now, three years later, my own father forgets my father-in-law.
- I suppose it’s natural that Laura would point out George W’s best points, but darn! He seems like such a caring, decent guy. I felt the same way after reading his own memoir. Examples: one night, a teenaged Jenna was distraught over something. George went into her room to talk with her and would not leave until he started to help her feel better about the situation. Outside the room, one of Laura’s staffers overheard them and began to cry, saying she wished she’d had a dad like that. Don’t we all? Another time, the Bushs’ springer spaniel, Spot, had a severe stroke. The night before they were going to have her euthanized, George carried her out to the South Lawn of the White House and lay down with her on the grass that she loved, petting her. She had been the only dog to be born at the White House (to George HW and Barbara Bush’s dog), and to die there as well. I dare you to read that with a dry eye!
- Laura goes into the anguish George felt at going to war with Iraq. Of course now it’s fashionable to say we went for no good reason, etc. But she speculates: what would the world be saying if we’d gone to war against Afghanistan in 1999? And yet, if we had, perhaps 9-11 would have been prevented. You just can’t know, and George felt a HUGE responsibility to keep Americans safe after 9-11. It really changed both their lives.
- It’s no surprise that the Bushes faced a lot of negative press. Laura tells how one of her daughters, in college during their White House years, told her that a Yale teaching assistant had told her, “I will only give you an A in this class if you tell your father not to go to war.” Wow. Talk about pressure! Also, several authors, teachers, and poets refused to participate in arts events Laura arranged, thinking that they were making an anti-war statement by doing this. As always, Laura tells about these events in her gentle, gracious way: Most of us … are guilty of some kind of stereotyping, but I have always found it a uniquely distressing attribute in people who study and teach. For these are the people who have chosen as their profession the life of the mind, and they are the ones whom we trust to teach our children. They, who have had every educational benefit, should welcome different thoughts and viewpoints. But so many responded to a White House invitation with their minds closed. I can relate to this, as — sadly — it’s often presumed that conservatives (Christians as well) have a simplistic, ignorant world view. I strongly object to this!
- Laura tells about some interesting faux pas: sometimes, they got bad info on foreign leaders they were going to visit. For instance, Laura was once told that a leader’s spouse had been a teacher. She brought this up in conversation when she met the woman, who looked at her in surprise and said that she’d been an engineer. Another time, they were told that the South Korean leader loved to bowl, so they had a special custom bowling ball made for him as a gift. When they presented it, he had no idea what it was: he had never bowled before! As humorous as these anecdotes are, they’re also a bit troubling. Made me wonder what else our leaders are messed up over!
- I enjoyed the parts where Laura told about White House facts, and the tour Hillary Clinton gave her when she was moving in. She spoke of the special bond among first ladies, regardless of party. Again though, media bias showed through: a media report said that the Bushes had been late to the White House tour, when in reality the Clintons were. And once when Laura gave a speech, a press reporter said, “if you hadn’t seen her, you’d have almost thought it was Hillary Clinton talking” (this was said like that was a good thing). Laura struggled with the press’s reluctance to admit that she had a voice of her own.
- So many details were given about Laura’s various trips (75 countries while she was First Lady), and again, it was amazing to imagine the perks of holding such high office. Free trips, meeting all kinds of leaders and celebrities worldwide, etc. Laura speaks of having Prince Charles to the White House, and choosing various dinner guests they thought he would enjoy. Can you imagine someone holding a dinner in your honor and inviting people they specifically thought you’d enjoy? How cool — yet for the rich and powerful, this must happen all the time. She also spoke Christmas seasons, when representatives and other Washington higher-ups could invite friends, relatives, etc. to tour the decorated White House. I can’t imagine living such a high-altitude life, but it’s fun to contemplate.
This was such an interesting book, well-written and fascinating. I admire Laura and George Bush after reading it more than I did before. Recommended!