Laura Bush makes Lebanon Opera visit

by Mark Henle | 10/22/04 5:00am

LEBANON -- Over 800 Upper Valley residents erupted Thursday morning as first lady Laura Bush took the stage at a packed Lebanon Opera House. In her characteristically calm manner, Bush delivered a stump speech that touched on contentious issues such as the Iraq war and taxes, but she also focused on education -- an issue Bush has advocated throughout her husband's four-year tenure.

As a former schoolteacher, Bush laid out a defense of the President's No Child Left Behind Act. She credited the law with closing the achievement gap between whites and non-Asian minorities. In response to attacks that her husband has underfunded the program -- a charge made frequently by the Kerry campaign -- Bush pointed out that he raised funding for elementary and middle schools to their highest levels ever. She also praised her husband for his forward-looking emphasis on math and science for high school students in an increasingly technical labor market.

Bush also defended her husband's tax cuts by pointing to the sole proprietorships and subchapter S corporations, which are taxed at the individual income tax level and often fall into the highest bracket. She contended, as has her husband, that these tax cuts have improved the economy as a whole.

Bush also took on the issue of stem cell research, charging her husband's opponents with "distort[ing] his record." She pointed out that Bush is the first president to give money for stem cell research, and that he gave $25 million and $191 million to embryonic and adult stem cell research last year.

"My husband's plan allows for scientific breakthroughs, while respecting the moral and ethical issues associated with them," Bush said.

Bush concluded her speech by citing the windfall that the Afghanistan invasion has held for women there.

"The women of Afghanistan are able to leave their homes without a male escort, and Afghan girls are going to school," Bush said.

With a calm yet upbeat persona, Bush has been one of her husband's most potent political assets. Her favorable-unfavorable rating in a USA TODAY poll was an impressive 76 to 16 percent, compared to Teresa Heinz Kerry's more tepid 40 to 34 percent.

The Lebanon crowd's reactions reflected this generally positive impression of the first lady.

"It was cogent and too the point. She's upbeat and her support for her husband elevates her as a woman. She's one of my role models," said Lime resident Chris Berger.

Other women in attendance were also impressed by the first lady's poise and familiarity with the Bush administration's record.

"I think she hit all the campaign points. She was well spoken and I think it might help convince some people on the fence. Me and my husband have supported the President 100 percent from the beginning," said Springfield resident Ellen Moore.