In his spicy 2003 book, All the President’s Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America’s First Families, former George W. Bush aide Doug Wead quotes President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “One of the worst things in the world is being the child of a president,” said Roosevelt, who himself had five kids. “It’s a terrible life they lead.” Bush, of course, is a presidential child himself. Though it’s unclear how much of his popularity crisis can be attributed to his White House lineage, one of Bush’s twin daughters, Jenna, 25, seems determined to prove Roosevelt wrong. For like many other public figures these days, Ms. Bush—perhaps best known for her very public run-ins with underage drinking—is reinventing herself through AIDS work. This fall, Jenna will join the literary ranks of 23 other presidential kids who are authors when HarperCollins publishes her book, Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope. The nonfiction saga follows a 17-year-old HIV-positive single mother in Panama, which has the third highest HIV-incidence rate in Central America. The contents of Ana’s Story have been kept secret until publication, but it’s a safe bet that the book won’t mention the wild fluctuation in United States AIDS funding for Panama—and the country’s subsequent spike in infections—under Jenna’s father’s administration.
Jenna met the title character while serving as an unpaid intern in Panama for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF; some of the proceeds from the book’s 500,000-copy first printing will benefit the organization. Jenna has let on that the book will be aimed squarely at a teen audience tempted to have unprotected sex. It will end, she says, with “a call to action.” Neither she nor HarperCollins would elaborate on how, exactly, she will call on young people to act. Will she parrot her father’s AIDS prevention policies—will we yet again hear his party line, preaching abstinence and demonizing condoms—repackaged for a more telegenic offspring? Jenna insisted to USA Today that the book is not a political position paper but an honest attempt to “get kids involved.” She added, “I’m aware that not all kids can pick up and fly to Panama. I’m very lucky.”
Much speculation has arisen as to Jenna’s motives for writing the book, and it is here that FDR’s dictum rings especially true. Certainly she has been subjected to withering public scrutiny and perhaps unfair criticism—her teen blood-alcohol levels, for instance, were hardly unique.
But whether Jenna Bush is writing Ana’s Story to rehab a media image or establish some sort of noble legacy of her own, she could not have picked a more embattled topic. Given her father’s disastrous AIDS record, can people living with HIV be expected to regard her AIDS crusade with anything but suspicion? Can they be forgiven if they are slow to applaud her efforts to start a “dialogue” with teens about the virus? Are they right, perhaps, to wonder why yet another Bush generation has focused on AIDS as an overseas dilemma—even as it ravages American youths who cannot afford to pick up and fly to Panama?
Here’s to Jenna Bush for not following the lead of, say, Harry Truman’s daughter Margaret, who wrote murder mysteries, or Amy Carter, who illustrated an unfortunate children’s book by her father, Jimmy: The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer. Maybe Jenna will inspire her father to become the 24th presidential-kid author, and finally throw the book at AIDS—say, a manual for salvaging his record. In a recent online forum addressing Ana’s Story, a chatter put it best: “Although I definitely don’t agree with her father’s politics, I’m interested in reading her book. Hopefully in this case, the apple does fall too far from the tree.” Or the bush.