Even though she died on April 17, Barbara Bush is still a symbol of a time when the first lady of the United States of America could choose a cause and not have people from the party opposite her husband, the president, try and tear it down.
While she was first lady from 1989 to 1993, Bush chose family literacy as her signature cause.
According to CNN, “In 1991, she helped pass the National Literacy Act, which focused on teaching millions of American adults to read. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy still aims to keep her work going.
“The American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don’t give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren’t giving everyone an equal chance to succeed,” said Bush in 1992. Pretty uncontroversial, right? Well, the rest of country agreed with her. Teaching people to read was a no brainer. Everyone was on board. Just like everyone was on board with the causes of first ladies before her.
All that changed when Hillary Clinton became first lady.
Clinton chose expanding health care as her cause. Her efforts were widely opposed and heavily criticized by Republicans. To be fair, they were against the legislation Clinton championed and they had every right to criticize something they viewed as wrong for the country. But it still marked the end to uncontroversial first lady platforms.
There was a bit of a reprieve when Laura Bush was first lady from 2001 to 2009. Her cause was education reform and, calling back to Barbara Bush’s time as first lady, literacy. But while liberals made jokes about teaching her husband, George W. Bush, to read, no one really had a problem with what Laura Bush was trying to do – give children a better education.
Then, Michelle Obama became first lady in 2009, and, suddenly, helping children had become a liberal conspiracy.
With her “Let’s Move” campaign, Obama wanted to see healthier children and proposed such radical ideas as: adults and children shouldn’t eat at McDonald’s every day, and people should exercise more.
And while there was nothing wrong with some of the criticism which centered on the effectiveness of the campaign, many conservatives accused Obama of “big government” and trying to force certain lifestyle choices upon the country. According to the L.A. Times, some conservatives even blamed Obama’s call to exercise more on an increase in pedestrian deaths.
Now, with Melania Trump in office, there is criticism of the current first lady’s anti-bullying campaign. But it mostly stems from people accusing her of not calling out the bullying her husband, Donald Trump, has engaged in. But, so far, no one has really voiced opposition to the program itself. Everyone is against bullying.
But even with temporary lulls in these first lady battles, it’s very unlikely America’s future first ladies will ever enjoy the kind of near universal approval that Barbara Bush and her predecessors enjoyed.