The second day of Hofstra’s presidential conference on the administration of George W. Bush kicked off with panels on such diverse topics as “International Negotiations and Strategies,” “Economic and Trade Policy,” and “The Leadership of First Lady Laura Bush.”
The latter panel (pictured above) examined the history and complex role of first ladies ranging from domestic obligations to political partnerships. Attorney Patricia A. Rossi presented her study on the former First Lady’s evolution from the “shy librarian” stereotype into an international activist, noting Mrs. Bush’s extensive travel and work in literacy, health and women’s rights.
Anne-Imelda Radice, executive director of the American Folk Art Museum, used the words consistency, synergy, compassion and humanity to describe Mrs. Bush’s leadership, which was echoed by Adair Margo, founder and president of the Tom Lea Institute.
“When Laura Bush shares what she loves, things multiply,” Margo said, referencing Mrs. Bush’s extensive work in efforts to improve literacy.
Anita McBride, former chief of staff to Mrs. Bush, noted the ever-evolving role of first ladies and the freedom with which they can choose important issues to focus their efforts.
“Every single person puts their own stamp on it,” said McBride, currently executive-in-residence at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.
The late morning plenary session on “Politics and Policy Making in the George W. Bush Presidency” featured three former White House officials who reflected on their time in the administration and felt “privileged” to work for President Bush.
Moderated by Dr. Meena Bose, conference director and director of Hofstra’s Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, the guests included Assistant to the President and Director of the USA Freedom Corps (2002-2004) John Bridgeland; Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (2001) John J. DiIulio Jr.; and former Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives Peter Wehner.
Wehner lamented, “We never on the communication side of things, in my estimation, were able to convey the George W. Bush we saw in private … as well as I wish we would have,” referring to the level of engagement and interest that they all saw in the president’s approach to his job.
“He liked policy. He cared about it, and he often put policy in a moral context.”
When the panel was asked about Dick Cheney’s influence on domestic policy, Wehner answered, “He had a very different style of engagement than President Bush. My sense of it is that he just didn’t have the passion and energy on domestic policy that he did on international policy.” Wehner echoed opinions also expressed on the first day of the conference that Cheney’s influence had diminished by Bush’s second term. “He wasn’t as dominant a figure,” because by then the president had gotten his “sea legs” on international affairs.
Wehner, who also served as deputy director of speech-writing under President Bush, shared his opinion on President Bush’s most effective speeches, citing Bush’s 9/11 speech from the Episcopal National Cathedral, which he said was “beautifully crafted” and “gave voice to what the public was feeling at the time.” Wehner also noted President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation following 9/11, and his 2001 speech on stem cell research which was “the president’s first major primetime address on a very complicated moral issue.”
Later today, at 7 p.m., there will be a discussion titled “Recollections of 9/11 First Responders” at the Student Center Theater. Among the participants are Will Jimeno, Detective (ret.)/Port Authority Police of NY/NJ; David Norman, Detective Second Grade/Emergency Service Unit, New York City Police Department; and Joseph W. Pfeifer, Assistant Chief/Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness, New York City Fire Department.
Topics for tomorrow, March 26, include “Europe and the Middle East”; “Economic Policy”; and “Interrogation Policies.” A panel on “White House Communications” will feature former US Presidential candidate Howard Dean, Sirius XM’s Julie Mason, and Ed Rollins, a noted Republican strategist and senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center.
Social Security, media and the presidency, the White House staff, and economics policy-making will also be addressed. On a lighter note, an 11:10 a.m. session on political cartoonists at the Student Center Theater will feature artists Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Michael Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News/King Features Syndicate/Mother Goose and Grimm, and Ann Telnaes of The Washington Post.
Those interested in viewing the panels that have already taken place and those scheduled for tomorrow should note that the plenary sessions and forums of the George W. Bush conference are available to watch over Livestream.
Social media highlights from #HofstraGWB Day 2:
Check out the entire feed of #HofstraGWB posts here.