Laura Bush Grows Into Star Role

For the Republican faithful, she is the political equivalent of a rock star. And like the most easily digestible pop song, her appeal is simple, straightforward and to the heart.

"The thing I get the most from her is how much she loves her husband and loves her country. And her strength, it just inspires me," said Bush supporter Susan Boring at a recent appearance by first lady Laura Bush.

"Well, of course I'm passionate about my husband," says Mrs. Bush. "I mean, that's why I'm here, because I married him. And I am passionate about my daughters. Family life and my friends are very, very important to me."

Middle American family values are what define the former Laura Welch. Born in Midland, Texas, she never had an appetite for politics. Education was her cause, as a schoolteacher, and later a librarian.

She admits she was reluctant at first about her husband's bid for the White House. And even as she takes her place in history among America's first ladies, the title still seems an uncomfortable fit.

"I'm not wild about the term first lady. I'd just like to be called Laura Bush," she says.

Like many of her predecessors, Laura Bush has championed issues – literacy, education and women's rights abroad in her case. But though she has the president's ear most nights, her influence on public policy is remarkably subdued.

"We talk about issues, but I'm not his adviser, I'm his wife," Mrs. Bush tells CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

"I find that it's really best not to give your spouse a lot of advice," she continues. "I don't want a lot of advice from him."

She also rarely contradicts her husband, even if it invites criticism – like her support for the president's restrictions on stem cell research. On Iraq, she was described as somewhat at odds with the president before the war. But now?

"Absolutely, that was the right thing to do," she says.

Was she comfortable with the timing? "Sure, I mean it's difficult, it's always difficult."

The two do part company on abortion. Mrs. Bush is on record as saying Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. But she is exquisitely careful not to stir the waters of controversy.

"In almost every single way, George and I share the same values," the first lady says. "And if we differ on some issues, it's very, very minor."

What Mrs. Bush is happy to talk about is her husband on the campaign trail. Giving speeches – despite the president's promise she wouldn't have to – targeting women voters, still a weak point for the Republican Party.

"I think she's President Bush's secret weapon. I think the more we see her out on the campaign trail, the populace and voters are going to get excited," says Bush supporter Gary Coberly.

"Probably the best reason to send me back is so Laura Bush will be the first lady for four more years," the president says at rallies.

That would mean four more years in the limelight for the woman who has embraced public life, but cherishes her privacy; who greets world leaders and motorcades across the globe, but still misses driving carpool.
  • Joel Roberts

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