Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/6/2010 (4159 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WASHINGTON -- A slender, pretty, brown-haired girl whose parents and grandparents used to live in Washington was talking about her new job in New York. She has an apartment in a fifth-floor walk-up, she said, and she doesn't own a television set.
Like many young people in Manhattan, she works at a small non-profit organization with a tiny budget and big, beautiful, painfully impossible dreams.
"To be honest," the 28-year-old was saying, "my sister should be supporting me." Hearing this, the girl's sister -- her twin, in fact -- who is teaching at an inner-city school in Baltimore and who just got married, broke up laughing.
This was lunch with George W. Bush's girls, Barbara and Jenna, who are working to better the world their father left behind when he left the White House.
Barbara Pierce Bush the younger was in Washington to publicize an initiative called Global Health Corps, which she and a handful of her friends created at the depths of the Great Recession. (Ms. Bush was named for her grandmother, the white-haired wife and mother of presidents, who will be 85 next week.)
The Corps gives recent university graduates the opportunity to serve for a year in some of the neediest places on the planet, including Rwanda, Burundi, Zanzibar, and Newark, New Jersey, where, Barbara said, "despite the urban blight, there is tremendous possibility."
Currently, the organization is funding 22 fellows, none of them doctors or nurses or medical students, all of them eager to use their managerial or computer or business skills to save as many lives as they can. Ms. Bush had been inspired, she told her audience, by a visit to an AIDS clinic she made during her father's first tour of Africa, which came four months after the Iraq invasion but before the uncontrolled carnage and chaos that came to haunt his regime.
"I vividly remember standing next to a tiny, precious girl," she said. "Although she looked like she was three, she was seven. I was 21 years old and I could not wrap my brain around this image."
And then Barbara Bush -- in front of everyone at the National Press Club, including her beaming blonde sister -- began to cry.
She collected herself quickly and told us that one out of four people in Tanzania is infected with HIV, the same percentage of the population that, in the United States, owns a high-definition TV.
"I was DESPERATE to work in this field," she said. So, after graduating from Yale, she went to South Africa and Botswana, as incognito as a Bush could hope to be, volunteering in medical clinics and then -- like so many other young idealists of what may come to be known as the Obama Decade -- beginning a career "working for social justice."
With informed confidence, Barbara Bush answered unscripted questions about the upcoming elections in Rwanda, the appalling rate of HIV infection in Washington, the work of the (much larger) Gates and Clinton Foundations, and the burgeoning role of blogging, text messaging and flip-cams in Third World medicine.
Her daddy, one couldn't help but smirk, probably thinks that a flip-cam is a video recorder mounted on a porpoise. But this was unfair: the war on AIDS in Africa was one crusade that George W. Bush seemed to launch from no motive but human caring.
Ms. Bush was a sophomore in her dormitory room at Yale on Sept. 11, 2001, when the attacks on New York and Washington "caught everyone off guard," including, alas, her own father.
"I found out the same way everybody else did," she said. "At first, we thought it was just an accident. Then, next door, there was another student sobbing, and that's how we found out. It was shock, and knowing that my dad's role as president was going to be very different because of that day."
Now she is 28, and national politics seems far behind Barbara and Jenna Bush, or, perhaps, far in front. At that age, their paternal great-grandfather, future U. S, Senator Prescott Bush, was selling Hupmobiles in Columbus, Ohio. Their grandfather, war veteran George H. W. Bush, was starting an oil company in West Texas and losing a four-year-old daughter to leukemia, and their high-living dad was earning his MBA at Harvard Business School.
"What effect did your father's position have on your career?" someone asked George W. Bush's dark-haired daughter.
"I don't think it had an effect," she replied, and she sounded so sincere that we wanted to believe her. "In my previous positions, I started at the bottom, getting coffee for the bosses. It didn't have an effect at all."
Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.