By Jack Anderson and Douglas Cohn
Washington -- Who's the most popular political figure in Texas? The answer is not Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush. Bush, himself, acknowledges what the polls tell us when he says his wife, Laura, is more popular than he is. And he might have added that the demure, congenial ex-librarian is also better read than virtually anyone in politics today.
But what about her political views? She appears to be walking along the same political path as her popular mother-in-law, former first lady Barbara Bush, who was widely viewed as a supporter of a woman's right to choose abortion. When questioned, Laura Bush's press secretary, Anne Swanson, would neither confirm nor deny the assertion. However, it should be noted that despite her mother-in-law's views, her father-in-law, ex-President George Bush (who was understood to share the pro-choice position), still appointed the arch-conservative, pro-life Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
The views of a potential first lady are important because first ladies have historically brought varying degrees of influence to bear on their presidential husbands, especially so beginning with Eleanor Roosevelt. That period was followed by the near noninvolvement of Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, the charismatic charm of Jackie Kennedy, the business-smart determination of Lady Bird Johnson, and the gentle advice of Pat Nixon.
Rosalyn Carter, however, harked back to Eleanor Roosevelt and more when she was invited to sit in on Cabinet meetings, ushering in the age of first lady as partner, which her successors, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, clearly were. This was virtually codified when President-elect Bill Clinton announced in 1992 that the nation was "getting two for the price of one." And Hillary took him at his word.
So whether or not the exceptionally bright, camera-shy first lady of Texas would have it so, she will, by modern tradition, be -- if her husband is elected president -- cast into an active political role. Already, in Texas, she has been drawn into the legislative arena, meeting with lawmakers on issues near and dear such as early childhood development.
On the national level, would a woman who has devoted so much of her life promoting literacy embrace the repeated Republican attempts to abolish the Department of Education? Would a woman as compassionate as Laura Bush turn a blind eye to the plight of homeless people sleeping on grates just a block from the White House? Would a first lady Laura Bush stand by while her husband appointed Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that ensured a woman's right to choose?
Laura Bush, the most popular political figure in Texas, could, through force of intellect and compassion -- and absence of ambition -- prove to be one of the most important and popular political figures of our age.
A LAURA BUSH READING LIST: Laura Bush provided the following list of the last 10 books she read, a list that reflects her concentration on classical literature and modern Texas authors:
"Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood," by Horton Foote
"Ordinary Paradise," by Laura Furman
"Ship of Fools," by Katherine Anne Porter
"The Poisonwood Bible," by Barbara Kingsolver
"The Time it Never Rained," by Elmer Kelto
"The Crystal Frontier," by Carlos Fuentes
"Dreaming of the Bones," by Deborah Crombie
"Be Sweet: A Conditional Love Story," by Roy Blount, Jr.
"A John Graves Reader," by John Graves
"Holes," by Louis Sachar
-- Jack Anderson and Douglas Cohn are columnists for United Feature Syndicate.