Acorns From a Feckless Bush
In the end, this WaPo column by Michael Kinsley comes out about where I do on the cultural and political significance of the Bush twins. But Kinsley sure opens his column with some shaky reasoning:
It is not the fault of Jenna or Barbara Bush that their father, the president, has gotten us into a war that he doesn't know how to get us out of. And, although you can blame parents for almost anything, George W. and Laura Bush are no longer responsible for the behavior of their twin daughters, who are in their mid-20s. Presidents, like the rest of us, don't get to choose their relatives. Remember Billy Carter?Now hold on there, Michael. I certainly wouldn't hold anyone responsible, morally or socially, for the behavior of their siblings. That applies to Jimmy Carter and brother Billy, and to George W. Bush and brother Neil of savings-and-loan scandal fame (an example Kinsley mentions later in his column).
But kids are a very different matter--even if they have reached the ripe old age of the mid-twenties. George and Barbara may not be legally liable for the behavior of the twins. But it's not unfair to assume that the girls' lifestyle reflects the values, interests, and sense of responsibility (or lack thereof) they learned in their parents' home.
If Jenna and Barbara had turned out as paragons of intelligence, diligence, and generosity, I'd be inclined to regard that as evidence that "their mom and dad must have done something right." (That's what I find myself saying whenever the topic of Chelsea Clinton comes up.)
On the other hand, when officials at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires ask the Bush twins to leave the country to prevent international embarassment--well, I can't help wondering about what kind of parenting they got. (An embassy spokesman later denied the report. You can decide what you believe. In any case, this is scarcely the first time the twins' antics have caused eyes to roll.)
Everyone knows that high-quality parenting doesn't guarantee that kids will be wise and mature--and some kids turn out better than their upbringing would lead you to expect. But it's just not accurate to imply that there's no connection whatever, leaning on the old saw, "You don't get to choose your relatives." As is so often the case, one popular saying needs to be balanced with another: "The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree."
I wouldn't push this point it not for the fact that Bush and the so-called conservative movement he leads love to lecture the rest of us about "family values" and "personal responsibility," and to sneer at the supposed moral laxity of Democrats and liberals. And when it comes to poor people, these conservatives have no hesitation about making people pay for the mistakes of their relatives--even to the point of evicting a grandmother from public housing in retaliation for her grandson's drug use.
Hypocrisy isn't the world's most grievous sin. But the more self-righteous and judgmental you are toward others, the bigger the target you make yourself for a justifiable backlash. So if George and Barbara find themselves getting skewered for the fecklessness of their daughters--hey, that seems like rough justice to me. It's life's way of telling them, "Stuff the lectures--get your own house in order instead."
Tags: Michael Kinsley, Bush twins, Chelsea Clinton, family values, Buenos Aires