They never promised us the Rose Garden

Times Staff Writer

When Tricia Nixon was married in 1971, the pageantry brought breathless coverage on television, in magazines and newspapers. It was the first in the White House Rose Garden, and the reception followed in the elegant East Room.

Next Saturday’s wedding of 26-year-old Jenna Bush, one of President and Laura Bush’s twin daughters, will not be televised and will not be at the White House. Amid the lavenders, yellows and blues of spring wildflowers on the president’s 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch, it will be a private affair. Extremely private.

High-tech fences, surveillance cameras and untold numbers of Secret Service agents will keep the uninvited miles away. Federal Aviation Administration rules -- and military interceptor aircraft -- will ensure that paparazzi lenses will be nowhere in the nearby sky.

Celebrity gawkers of the political variety may be disappointed. The editors at People magazine definitely are. But historians and political observers say the nation -- at war in two far-off places, afflicted by economic malaise and ready to be done with this president -- is in no mood to watch lavish nuptials unfold at the White House.


And that’s just fine with Jenna Bush. She is described as a private person: She stayed in Texas when her parents moved to the White House. She sought to stay out of the public eye, though she was only partially successful given her underage drinking escapades. (Her mother has used the word “exuberant” to describe her.) Only recently, promoting two books she has written, has she sought the spotlight.

Here’s what we know about the wedding -- many of the details gleaned from an account the bride-to-be offered to Vogue magazine and others from a family acquaintance:

The bride will wear what she called a “very structured” Oscar de la Renta organza gown; the single bridesmaid will be twin Barbara Bush; the 14 members of what Texans call the “house party” will wear short Lela Rose chiffon dresses with colors inspired by the hues of the fields and pond. And the ceremony will take place outdoors at 7:30 p.m. to escape potentially stifling heat.

Bush has said she felt pressure to marry her fiance, Henry Hager, at the White House. “I went back and forth a lot,” she told Vogue. But, she added, “that’s not really my personality. There’s a glamour to it, I know, but Henry and I are far less glamorous than the White House.”

Besides, said an acquaintance who did not want to be identified speaking about family matters, Bush -- who grew up in Austin and attended the University of Texas when her parents moved to the White House -- never felt that Washington was home.

There will be between 200 and 250 guests, mostly members of the extensive Bush clan and Hager’s family, friends of the bride and groom, and longtime family friends.

“It’s a small wedding for anyone whose dad happens to be president of the United States,” the acquaintance said.

From Jenna Bush’s accounts, it’s clear that Hager, the scion of a Virginia political family, is a traditionalist. He sought the president’s permission for the marriage and has insisted on not seeing the wedding dress beforehand. Hence, no pictures or sketches will be released.


So much for what’s known.

Does anyone want to know more?

Absolutely, says Betsy Glick, executive editor of People magazine, noting that stories about Jenna Bush are consistently among the top five on the magazine’s website.

“Our readers,” she said, “expect details: What the cake tasted like. Who cried?”


“There is something exciting and different and special about a White House wedding,” the editor said. “I know it’s not in the White House, and this is disappointing to us, but it all has White House trappings.”

Besides, she said, Jenna Bush is “an adorable, an accomplished, a likable and impressive young woman. It’s all good. There’s nothing bad about this story.”

The thing limiting interest in the wedding is the locale, said Ann Stock, who was the White House social secretary in the Clinton administration. “I still think the daughter of a president getting married is a big deal,” she said.

Some experts on the presidency dissent, citing the complex and largely negative emotions that swirl about Jenna Bush’s father.


Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian of the National First Ladies’ Library, said the president’s unpopularity, the nation’s focus on choosing his successor and, most important, the Iraq war have diminished interest in the wedding. “Everything else, whether touching, amusing or mildly controversial, is going to play second fiddle to that,” he said.

He also noted that the public now has many media distractions, provided by the Internet and cable television, and many celebrity distractions, that were not around when Tricia Nixon was married or, before her, President Johnson’s daughters.

Because the first family has been extremely guarded in releasing details of the wedding, he said, interest has not been stoked. In addition, when the setting is the White House, rather than a secluded ranch in central Texas, he said, “the public feels it has a little bit more at personal stake and a right to see and know about the wedding.”

If the economy was booming, the war had been won and “happy times” prevailed, there would have been “more goodwill and more general interest,” he said.


But Doug Wead, who served on the White House staff of the President George H.W. Bush and who has written extensively about presidents’ families, suggested it might be Jenna’s good fortune that her father is one of the most unpopular modern presidents.

The children of the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt divorced and remarried many times. But Tricia Nixon Cox and her sister, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, are still married.




Times researcher John Tyrrell contributed to this report.