Issa: No More Laura Bushes
The blogosphere is buzzing with the news that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is pushing for new requirements in federal law to mandate First Lady Michelle Obama open her policy work to the public. But what Issa first started in 2008 as a campaign to rein in a future President Hilary Clinton and first spouse Bill could well have been a reaction to another out-of-control presidential wife. Given her high-profile White House roles on AIDS, gangs and Burma, Congressman Issa may have simply concluded: no more Laura Bushes.
For his part, Issa claims his proposed changes to the Federal Advisory Committee Act are merely designed to serve the goal of open government. Far from a petty partisan crusade against a popular Democratic president and his wife:
"We are trying actually to protect the historic role of the first lady," Issa insisted, repeatedly invoking the "transparency" mantra of the Obama administration. "I believe this is open government at its finest."
And that "historic role" of the first lady, Issa may fear, was undermined by that trailblazing, behind-the-scenes policy wonk, Laura Bush.
In October 2007, Mrs. Bush made clear her policymaking role was little noticed, understood or appreciated:
"The fact is I've been involved for a long time in policy, and I think I just didn't get a lot of coverage on it. I was stereotyped as being a certain way because I was a librarian and a teacher...which are considered traditional women's careers."
As you'll recall, President Bush during his 2005 State of the Union address assigned Laura as the point person for his anti-gang initiative. A year after being tasked with the "nationwide effort" to broker a peace between the Bloods and the Cripps, First Lady Laura Bush was tapped by her husband as the administration's go-to gal on the "Helping America's Youth Initiative," which aimed to encourage "caring adults to get involved in the life of a child."
But it was her work as the Bush administration's global AIDS ambassador through which Laura redefined, to Darrell Issa's apparent horror, the role of first lady.
In June 2006, Mrs. Bush represented the United States at the UN General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS. There, she led a delegation consisting of Bush daughter Barbara, abstinence peddler and Bush AIDS advisor Anita Smith as well as Baptist Minister Herb Lusk of White House faith-based initiative fame. To the shock and awe of conference attendees, the United States balked at boosting global funding from $8 billion to $22 billion annually. The American team struck language from conference documents describing "men who have sex with men" or "sex workers," substituting the meaningless phrase "vulnerable groups." Even more disturbing, the United States joined Egypt, Sudan and other members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in blocking public references to drug addicts, prostitutes and homosexuals in event papers.
In her role, Mrs. Bush also defended the strings attached to her husband's $15 billion AIDS initiative PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program. Bowing to the religious right, the White House had steered over $1 billion to faith-based groups stressing abstinence and undermining condom education and distribution programs. During a January 2006 visit to Africa, Laura Bush was forced to explain her husband's wildly misguided - and dangerous - focus on the "A" in the ABC formula of "Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms":
"I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100 per cent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease."
First Lady Laura Bush's diplomacy didn't end with AIDS. In May 2008, perhaps in an effort not to draw attention to her husband's bungling of the Hurricane Katrina crisis three years earlier, it was Mrs. Bush who delivered the administration's condemnation of the Burmese junta's response to the mammoth cyclone that devastated the country. Acknowledging "I have no idea" why the state-run media in Myanmar failed to post warnings about the storm, Mrs. Bush could well have been describing the Bush White House when she was asked if the Burmese government had "blood on its hands":
"Well, I just think it's very, very important -- that we know already that they are very inept; that they have not been able to govern in a way that lets their company -- country, for one thing, build an economy."
It's conceivable that Congressman Issa's move to curb the first lady was a reaction to Laura Bush's unfortunate cheerleading for her husband George's Iraq war. In May 2006, she announced, "I don't really believe those polls" about the war, adding, ''A lot of people come up to me and say, 'Stay the course.'" By February 2007, she declared, "Many parts of Iraq are stable now, but, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody." And then that April, she reassured the American people:
"No one suffers more than their President and I do."
Of course, in the world we live in, partisan pugilist Darrell Issa is solely focused on his Republican Party's opponents. In the immediate wake of Barack Obama's election, Issa quickly moved to shake up the Republican staff on his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, replacing crafters of legislation with investigators. For a man who called Valerie Plame a perjurer, compared the 9/11 attacks to a plane crash and attacked the families of Blackwater contractors killed in Iraq, going after Michelle Obama is just another day at the office.