Mrs. Bush Gets Frenched

First Lady Laura Bush’s recent trip to Paris got the United States back into the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the first time since Reagan pulled us out 20 years ago, which is good for us. It also got her into a mini sex scandal with the French president, which is also good for us.

Before I get to her freedom kissing session with Jacques Chirac, let’s first try to understand why we weren’t in UNESCO in the first place. Well, it isn’t because it wasn’t a popular club, because 189 countries are in it, including two that we are currently occupying. And it’s probably not because UNESCO is an anti-American organization, unless education, science and culture are the newest additions to the Axis of Evil. Let’s just call it mind-numbing idiocy.

Besides crawling back to UNESCO, her visit to Paris was aimed at mending fences with the international community and, more particularly, the French. It was a particularly deft move by the Bush administration, sending the president’s better half to clean up the worse half’s mess. Laura does the dirty work, kissing up to President Chirac, the UN, and the French people, while Bush reaps the rewards unscathed.

But it was Chirac doing most of the kissing up. After both receiving and relinquishing Mrs. Bush from his embraces, the French president landed a juicy European greeting on the First Lady’s hand. The New York Post, that bastion of journalistic integrity, characterized the affair with the sub-headline “Laura braves weasel kiss.” The First Lady’s reaction to Chirac’s affection was both priceless, and refreshingly symbolic of the current relationship between Bush’s America and Europe. It combined a puritanical disdain for the swarthy Frenchman’s advances, and an innocent horror at the (for her) overly physical and sensual nature of the gesture. Surely, she thought, this was someone a degenerate like Tipper Gore would adore (after all, she made out with her husband on national television, in front of the children!), but not a mild-mannered librarian and Moral Majoritarian from small-town America.

Stolid and resolute, but noticeably more distant from the public than first ladies from years past, most notably Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Bush seems to embody the cold, corporate feel of the Bush administration. The Clinton era of relative glitz and glamour, with frequent trips to Hollywood and European capitals, have been replaced with sojourns to that earthy ranch in Texas, and frequent trips to electoral battleground states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. Sexy controversies like sex scandals, lying about sex and allegations of sexual misconduct have been replaced by more sober controversies like corporate scandals, lying about threats to our national security, and allegations of blowing an intelligence agent’s cover.

But Chirac’s kiss playfully poked a hole in the steely, businesslike façade of the Bush administration. And it no doubt angered the president, which should make us all grin. And while Mrs. Bush’s infidelities did not reach the level of our last president’s, she did make the one mistake that Clinton never made—she was caught red-handed.

—Erol N. Gulay is an editorial editor.