On Monday afternoon, AUSG released the name of the 2015 winner of Wonk of the Year. Much to the joy of some and chagrin of others, the wonderful former First Lady Laura Bush was selected. AU being a very liberal campus, it is no surprise that there was some backlash about the choice. But even as a conservative, I think there are so many more reasons as to why Laura Bush was a fantastic choice for the Wonk of the Year.
According to AU’s Wonk of the Year page, the award recognizes “a well-known individual who represents the embodiment of a wonk.” The award is given to someone who uses “their knowledge and influence to create meaningful change in the world.” Both of the past winners of the WOTY, Bill Clinton and Anderson Cooper, represented these qualities in their own ways. Former FLOTUS Laura Bush certainly embodies those qualities.
Former First Lady Bush is one of the greatest supporters of literacy. Armed with a master’s degree in library science from University of Texas at Austin, she worked in Texas public schools as a teacher and as a librarian. As first lady, she helped found the Texas Book Festival and National Book Festival here in DC. She also created the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries. The foundation was created to support education by updating and diversifying school libraries throughout America
Through the George W. Bush Institute, Laura Bush is the Chair of the Women’s Initiative which works to “improve the lives of women and girls with education and economic opportunities.” Through the Initiative, Bush manages three programs; the Afghan Women’s Project, the First Ladies Initiative, and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program, all of which support women in different roles throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Aside from the Women’s Initiative, the former FLOTUS continues her work on global healthcare innovations, education reform, and supporting the men and women who have served in America’s military. She is also an Honorary Chair of the National Park Foundation, has worked to promote the Junior Ranger program and helped start Preserve America, a national initiative to protect our cultural and natural heritage.
Anita McBride, an executive-in-residence at the School of Public Affairs, directs programming and national conferences on the legacies of America’s first ladies and their historical influence on politics, policy and global diplomacy. Ms. McBride was Mrs. Bush’s chief of staff in the White House from 2005-2009. When reached out to for comment, Ms. McBride explains that “American University has spent considerable time examining the role and influence of American First Ladies. Through our conferences and programs we have highlighted their many contributions throughout our history – many of these women are underreported and overlooked.” Though Laura Bush had often been viewed “as a shy retiring librarian without a thought of her own,” Ms. McBride references a quote from Mrs. Rula Ghani, the new first lady of Afghanistan, in defense of the former FLOTUS; “Once committed to a cause, she’s relentless, she’s resourceful, and she does it so gracefully, and so unobtrusively, that you don’t realize her power until faced with her achievements.”
Ms. McBride says that, “It is fitting that we’re recognizing one of the most active First Ladies in our history and she has remained deeply invested, passionate, and committed to issues she was engaged in during public life.” Ms. McBride has described Laura Bush as a very grounded and very solid person who “helped diffuse (the political rhetoric with) her calm demeanor.” McBride states, “I think one way where First Ladies are unique in this is that they have an ability to rise above the political fray, and bring a human side to our politics. And really help remind Americans that our political leaders, no matter who they are, generally get into this because they want to do something good.”
As the first woman, first conservative, and first First Lady to receive the Wonk of the Year award, I am extremely excited to welcome Laura Bush to American University to speak this upcoming April. We as students at AU should feel honored that she is coming to speak to our school. I speak solely on my own behalf when I say that the decision made by Kennedy Political Union to award former First Lady Laura Bush the 2014 Wonk of the Year was a well thought out and unbiased choice.