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The First Lady Defends Right to Private Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

First Lady Barbara Bush offered a strong defense of private lives, including her own, saying Wednesday that she sympathizes with Wellesley College students who raised questions about her speaking at their graduation, but she thinks they don’t understand “where I am coming from.”

“That’s all right,” Mrs. Bush said. “I chose to live the life I’ve lived, and I think it has been a fabulously exciting, interesting, involved life. I hope some of them will choose the same. . . . In my day, they probably would have been considered different. In their day, I’m considered different. Vive la difference !”

At a lunch with seven reporters in the family quarters, Mrs. Bush said the President was more upset than she was when 150 of Wellesley’s 600 seniors signed a petition protesting her selection as commencement speaker. The students didn’t ask for the invitation to be withdrawn, but complained that Mrs. Bush’s only qualification as a commencement speaker was her husband’s political success.

The First Lady--who also defended the rights of homosexuals to keep their life style private, said she would appear in a media spot to help children with AIDS and discussed the pressures of a public life--speculated that her young critics might view her roles as a wife and a mother and that of her entire generation differently in time.

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Mrs. Bush said that in the more than 40 years since she dropped out of Smith College to get married, she had changed her views markedly: “A lot of water goes over that dam in those years. . . . But I hope (the Wellesley students) won’t opt not to have families and I hope they won’t opt not to be great parents. . . . I don’t care who you are, the best job in life you do is to raise your children.”

Mrs. Bush, who as First Lady has often been seen as a guardian of values on home and family, said she would not necessarily address those issues next month at Wellesley when she delivers her speech, which has not been written yet.

The Wellesley protest was a rare public criticism of the First Lady, who, well into her second White House year has scored highly in public approval ratings. The media, she said, have been not only fair to her husband and his presidency but favorable toward her. “I’m waiting for you to really get to know me,” she said, jokingly.

Mrs. Bush grew most impassioned during lunch when the talk turned to people who seek to force homosexuals to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation, a practice dubbed “outing.” She had been asked about her husband’s recent mention that two family friends had died of AIDS.

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“Actually I think one of our friends was out and one of our friends wasn’t,” she said. “I’m not one who believes in outing. I really don’t like that at all.” She said that people’s sexual orientation should be a private matter.

Mrs. Bush said that, if asked, she would appear in a public service announcement to help children with AIDS. “But I was never asked,” she said, adding she was surprised when Los Angeles AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser told reporters that the First Lady had not responded to a request to do such a spot.

“I visited with her and I like her enormously,” Mrs. Bush said of Glaser, the wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser, whose son has tested HIV-positive and whose daughter Ariel died of the disease in 1988. “I have enormous sympathy and feel for her but she never asked me to do anything.”

As First Lady, Mrs. Bush noted, there are opportunities and drawbacks in living in the White House fishbowl. She was thrilled this week to be with her husband when he met with former hostage Robert Polhill at the White House. She was moved to tears when Polhill spoke by phone with Frank Reed, another hostage who had been released only hours earlier.

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The drawbacks to White House life? It can be isolating, she said, and constant media scrutiny has been hard on her children, particularly her daughter, Doro Bush LeBlond, who is separated from husband Billie LeBlond. Mrs. Bush also expressed sympathy for John F. Kennedy Jr., whose failure to pass the New York Bar examination for the second time had produced banner headlines like “Hunk Flunks” in the New York tabloids.

On other topics, she denied that there had been any tension between her and former First Lady Nancy Reagan over an invitation to return to the White House, where the Reagans had attended a ceremony there last year. “There’s a certain class thing about her not coming,” Mrs. Bush said. “I remember when we were the ambassador to the U.N., well, you don’t go back for a little bit . . . “

Mrs. Bush also said her health is improving and this week she had stopped taking prednisone, the medicine her doctors prescribed after she was diagnosed last spring with Graves’ disease.


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