Barbara and me


BARBARA Bush and I have a lot in common.

We have both been married for 44 years. We each have five children and 12 grandchildren.

We look somewhat alike, with white hair, ample hips and wrinkles from the sun and smiling.

Sometimes I, too, wear three strands of pearls.

We both left college to marry similar men: New Englanders by birth, Ivy League graduates. Both signed up to serve in World War II the day they turned 18.

George Bush was shot down over the Pacific and rescued by a submarine. My husband Malcolm flew 73 missions in his P-47 before being shot down over Germany and taken prisoner.

Our parallel lives continued. We moved away from our parents. Our husbands worked and we stayed at home washing diapers, watching Little League games, getting everyone packed for trips to family compounds.

Malcolm and George both plunged into politics. Malcolm became mayor of Concord and then ran, unsuccessfully, for governor.

George made it to the House and then ran, unsuccessfully, for the Senate. Barbara and I licked stamps and arranged our children into camera-ready campaign tableaux (with nobody crying).

In 1978 I finally met George and Barbara Bush. He was running for president against Ronald Reagan. As a moderate Republican, I was all for him. I threw a party for him and he spent the night at our house.

That summer it was Barbara's turn to stay with us. How easily we settled into conversation. The advance men had lost her luggage on the way to our lakeside house, and I remember her amazement when she fit into one of my bathing suits.

Paradoxically, it was after we met that our paths began to diverge. George Bush became Ronald Reagan's vice president. Malcolm campaigned for John Anderson.

Barbara Bush remained the dutiful wife. I, inspired by my daughters and the League of Women Voters, became a feminist and a legislator.

Today I am a state senator and a grandmother. Barbara has stayed with the more traditional wife's role. If my husband were president, I probably would have done the same thing. Being first lady is a full-time job.

But, more important, we have come to differ in our beliefs. When I look at the way the president is handling important issues, especially abortion, I wish that Barbara had a bit more of Eleanor Roosevelt in her.

Judging from the actions of his Council on Competitiveness and his embrace of the religious right, George Bush no longer speaks the language of moderate Republicans.

It all makes me want to get my hair done, put on my new red wool suit and pearls and go down to the White House and tell him a thing or two.

Polls show a growing gender gap between George Bush and Bill Clinton. Other women seem to have the same impression I do: Mr. Bush, despite being the perfect grandfather, just doesn't get it. I hate to tell my soul mate, Barbara, but I'm voting for Bill Clinton next week.

Susan McLane, a Republican, is a New Hampshire state senator.

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