Barbara Bush died today, at the age of 92. As the wife of one American president and the mother of another, Bush often portrayed the role of an idealized non-political First Lady (or First Mother), rarely weighing in on polarizing issues, and focusing her public efforts on apolitical issues like literacy. (That detached, slightly aristocratic approach to First Lady-hood, in turn, formed the core of Phil Hartman’s impression of her on Saturday Night Live in the late ’80s.) Still, not even the professionally composed can keep mum on every topic, which is how Bush once ended up in a bit of serious correspondence with another wife and mother of great American men: Marge Simpson.
This is per Letters Of Note, which has photocopies and transcripts of a brief communication between the matriarchs of the White House and the one on Evergreen Terrace, respectively, kicked off in 1990 when the normally TV-averse Bush dubbed The Simpsons “the dumbest thing [she] had ever seen.” (Two years later, her husband would truck in similar attitudes when he noted that he wanted to make American families “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.) Apparently incensed, The Simpsons team fired back in the form of Marge’s typically polite disapproval, writing a letter to the First Lady, noting, “if we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw, Washington must be a good deal different than what they teach me at the current events group at the church.”
Dear First Lady:
I recently read your criticism of my family. I was deeply hurt. Heaven knows we’re far from perfect and, if truth be known, maybe just a wee bit short of normal; but as Dr. Seuss says, “a person is a person”.
I try to teach my children Bart, Lisa, and even little Maggie, always to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and not talk badly about them, even if they’re rich. It’s hard to get them to understand this advice when the very First Lady in the country calls us not only dumb, but “the dumbest thing” she ever saw. Ma’am, if we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw, Washington must be a good deal different than what they teach me at the current events group at the church.
I always believed in my heart that we had a great deal in common. Each of us living our lives to serve an exceptional man. I hope there is some way out of this controversy. I thought, perhaps, it would be a good start to just speak my mind.
With great respect,
To her credit, Bush seems to have been perfectly happy to walk back her comments and play along with the joke; she promptly wrote Marge back, complimenting her on her “charming family” and asking her to “Please forgive a loose tongue.” The Simpsons’ writers must have appreciated the gesture; when they portrayed the couple in 1996's beloved “Two Bad Neighbors,” George H.W. Bush received the modern-day Mr. Wilson treatment, quickly descending to Homer’s crappy level; Barbara, meanwhile (voiced by Tress MacNeille), was the mild voice of reason, hoping it would all blow over like “the Noriega thing.”
Bush’s full response:
How kind of you to write. I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.
I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family — Lisa, Homer, Bart and Maggie — are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.
Please forgive a loose tongue.
P.S. Homer looks like a handsome fella!