Jenna and Barbara Bush, who introduced their father last night with a litany of cringe-inducing one-liners, seemed to have mistaken the Republican National Convention for their debutante ball.
Sure, the girls threw in some praise for their dad. But mostly, they congratulated themselves on their momentous decision to campaign for him. “Jenna and I are NOT very political,” Barbara said, with the odd bursts of emphasis that she and Jenna employed throughout the night. “But we love our dad TOO much to stand back and watch from the sidelines.” The twins then launched into an elaborate set of jokes about their “first day” at campaign HQ. Before anyone in the audience had quite grasped the premise, Barbara was announcing that she’d been denied the VP slot. “Who IS this man they call Dick Cheney?” she said. Huh?
To be fair, the twins almost certainly didn’t write this dreck. And the material they were given was unusually difficult: What kind of speechwriter, assigned to come up with something for two novices to deliver on live television, writes a joke-laden address that requires the comedic timing of a late-night talk show host? The twins might have done better with a short, direct statement about their parents, something like the ones the Kerry girls (and Cate Edwards, who is 22, the same age as the twins) delivered with such poise. We’ll never know, since no one wrote them one.
But if the twins were aware that they’d been saddled with a horrific clunker of a speech, they didn’t let on. They were too busy basking in the glory of themselves. While the mystified audience obediently clapped after each putative punch line, the girls let out appreciative giggles, smiled, and tilted their heads this way and that. (Barbara, in particular, seems to have been studying the Campaign Head Tilt at her mother’s knee; when Jenna was speaking, Barbara often gave a knockout impression of Laura, who frequently appears as though she’s had a run-in with a zealous taxidermist.) Despite the lukewarm reception, Jenna and Barbara seemed to feel the speech was going over well.
That’s not really surprising, since the twins appear confident that everything they do will go over well. Take, for example, Jenna’s line about the twins’ more tabloid-worthy escapades: “We kept trying to explain to my dad that when we were young and irresponsible, well, we were young and irresponsible!” Self-deprecating jokes like this one are Politics 101 these days—the reference to their father’s own account of his misspent youth was a nice touch—and I’m not one of those prigs who think the girls’ wilder behavior is particularly noteworthy. Plenty of college kids, given the opportunity to party with Ashton Kutcher, would seize it. Candidates’ children don’t ask for the spotlight, and in general, we should give them room to make mistakes. But when Jenna and Barbara decided to throw their coming out party at the convention, they invited us to draw conclusions about what they’re like and about what their parents value. In this case, the sense of entitlement in Jenna’s joke was unmistakable: We will do whatever we want. You will love us anyway. This self-confidence may be a tribute to very good parenting: The Bushes have raised cheerful, self-assured daughters. Or it may be an indictment of very bad parenting: Their daughters are bratty and self-involved.
Toward the end of the debacle, Jenna, who has slightly better timing than her sister, explained what they were doing on stage: “You know all those times when you’re growing up and your parents embarrass you? Well, this is payback time, on LIVE TV.” Was it ever. Although the girls then revealed a few supposedly humiliating facts about mom and dad (George and Laura call each other “Bushie”), it was the speech itself that was the real embarrassment.