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The silver-tongued Silver Fox

The absolutely inimitable Silver Fox – the only first lady since Abigail Adams who has both married and given birth to presidents of the United States – has a new book entitled “Reflections: Life After the White House.”

And this publication, by Scribner, means that America’s Grandmother has, to the delight of most of America, gone on tour.

On NBC’s “Today” show, she was asked what she thought of the nine candidates who want to replace her son in the White House.

With what most people regard as gloriously refreshing candor, she replied:

“So far, they are a pretty sorry group, if you want to know my opinion.”

And then, immediately, a snappy disclaimer: “This is the world according to Barbara Bush; not George, not George H.W., not anybody.”

Her husband disclosed that the one he called “Miss Frank,” recently told the president, who had just returned from a run, to get his feet off the table in their bedroom.

And does the present president always obey his mother? She replied:

“He still doesn’t take my advice, that dirty dog!”

In 1984, she referred to vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro of New York’s famed Zaccaro-Ferraro family as “rhymes with rich.”

Time magazine reports that her new book “was toned down considerably by her editor at Scribner. … To ward off libel suits, he (her husband) says, ‘the publisher had to take a lot out.’”

But Time adds:

“And though tough as they come, she is also capable of flashes of compassion for political opponents, once they have been dispatched. In her latest book, she describes Al Gore as exceedingly gracious on the day of her son’s inauguration. ‘I did feel sorry for Al Gore. That’s a terrible time’ she tells me. ‘Everybody’s sort of the same. Though some I like better than others, of course.’”

The last time I saw Barbara Bush in the White House was in the Rose Garden after her husband had been elected Reagan’s vice president. During the 1980 election, I had seen her in Des Moines at a Republican presidential candidate’s debate. Reagan’s political adviser John Sears advised him to avoid attending. This left George Bush with top ratings going into the New Hampshire Primary.

In Des Moines, five candidates and their wives were on the stage before the debate began. Then, from a side door on the main floor, in walked a well-tailored lady with white hair that a fellow reporter confirmed was Mrs. Bush.

She saw Saul Friedman of Knight Ridder newspapers and called: “Saul!” To which he replied: “Barbara!” – after which they embraced and kissed cheeks.

The following morning she got off to New Hampshire, where I was able to reach her by phone.

“Mrs. Bush, Saul Friedman of Knight Ridder last night admitted that he was the reporter who kissed you in Des Moines,” to which she responded:

“That is totally inaccurate! I kissed him!”

Intrigued, I asked: “Do you as a presidential candidate’s wife kiss many national political reporters?”

“Yes, several!”

To which I replied: “Which ones?”

And she responded: “That’s for you to find out!”

She did not know that at that time I was a columnist for Bill Loeb’s Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s largest daily, which was very pro-Reagan and anti-Bush.

Loeb asked me to somehow get a photograph of the enraged-when-I-inquired Saul Friedman. (He was photographically captured in a supermarket via a very good detective).

That picture, along with photographs of all the unkissed-by-Friedman candidates’ wives appeared in Washington Weekly under the headline: “SAUL, SAUL, WHEREFORE ART THOU SAUL?”

In the Union Leader, the headline was: A NEW BUSH CAMPAIGN TACTIC: DON’T KISS BABIES – KISS REPORTERS.

And Ronald Reagan subsequently won the New Hampshire Primary – and later the presidency.

When, the following spring, Barbara Bush spotted me in the Rose Garden, she said: “You devil!”

But I saw just a hint of a smile.

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