Laura Bush in CNY

by Miguel Balbuena

The 43rd First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, came to central New York on May 1 to be interviewed during the latest installment of the D’Aniello Family Speaker Series.

This Serie was launched by Dan D’Aniello, a member of the Board of Trustees of Syracuse University

(SU), with the goal of promoting “dialogue on subjects with national impact with some of the nation’s most prominent leaders and thinkers speaking on topics such as entrepreneurship, free enterprise, patriotism, veterans’ issues and leadership,” according to the press release for the event.

D’Aniello is best known for co-founding the Carlyle Group, along with Bill Conway and David Rubenstein,

where he strengthened his connections to the Bush family and some of its closest friends. This investment management company has its fair share of detractors in the press, most notably The

Economist magazine, described by philosopher Karl Marx as an “organ of the aristocracy of finance.” This alleged mouthpiece of the plutocracy suggested that the Carlyle Group epitomizes “crony capitalism,” which operates in the liminal space between the political and business classes.

“The secretive Carlyle Group gives capitalism a bad name,” The Economist said in 2003. The only reason

quoted by this London-based publication for its hard assessment stemmed from a conference, held on the fateful date of September 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C., during which this business group was represented by its big-gun hires such as formers President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.

“The conference was hosted by the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that manages billions of dollars,

including, at the time, some bin Laden family wealth. It also employs Messrs. Bush and Baker. “In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when no one was being allowed in or out of the United States, many members of the bin Laden family in America were spirited home to Saudi Arabia. The revival

of defense spending that followed greatly increased the value of the Carlyle Group’s investments in

defense companies.”

Laura Bush graduated from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in University Park, Texas, with a

baccalaureate in education, followed five years later with a master’s degree in library science from

the University of Texas at Austin. Fittingly, during her stay in central New York, Bush was questioned

on stage by SU’s Dean of Libraries and University Librarian David Seaman, born in England. The interview, which only lasted half an hour, took place in the Marvin and Helaine Lender

Auditorium of the Martin Whitman School of Management on the SU’s campus.

The format of the function insured Bush having limited interaction with the general public in attendance. Besides the 30-minute time constraint, no questions from the audience were allowed and, at the end of the event, Bush was whisked away by three Secret Service agents through a door next to the stage, far away from the two back doors used by the public. Seaman said that she had to leave for another commitment, probably with the university head honchos.

Further isolating the regular attendees, they were relegated to a few upper rows of seats in the

auditorium, with only 64 spots available, which were all taken half an hour prior the starting time of

the dialogue between Bush and Seaman. Those who tried to enter after that time were courteously

directed to the overflow room, where they comfortably watched the event via video link.

As an undergraduate at SMU, the 43th First Lady was a member of its chapter of the Kappa Alpha

Theta sorority. Her sisters from its homologous chapter at SU were seated in the Very Important Person

section of the auditorium and they were acknowledged by Bush when the emcee pointed out their

presence to her. The VIP section, consisting mostly of school faculty and administrators, occupied the

front part of the room, about 70 percent of it. Between this section and the ordinary one were three

rows reserved for reporters like myself.

The interview was not conducted by a professional journalist nor a political scientist. No probing

questions were asked. Despite this, some insight into Bush’s personality could be gleaned. I could

summarize it with a Latin phrase: “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields

(in the fiction and non-fiction genres).

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