Provo • Laura Bush got used to seeing her family caricatured and criticized during the eight years she spent in the White House with her husband.
While addressing a reverent audience at Brigham Young University on Sunday, she didn’t mention anything about George W. Bush being portrayed as Clueless George by a certain Utah editorial cartoonist who once harshly lampooned the president as a war monkey for the way he led the nation into the Iraq War.
But the former first lady affirmed the importance of citizens voicing criticism to hold their government accountable.
“All that blathering and bloating is a kind of sacred music. It’s the clanking of democracy,” Bush told an audience of at least 9,000 gathered in the Marriott Center to hear the annual Freedom Festival’s Patriotic Service.
As if to order, a protester was forcibly escorted out early in her address, yelling “9/11 was a conspiracy. Your husband is a war criminal!”
The event is part of Provo’s weeklong annual celebration of traditional American values, i.e. faith, freedom, family and country.
Organizers describe the event as nonpolitical. Last year’s speaker was Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who emphasized the importance of responsibility in sustaining liberty.
On Wednesday, the festival will stage a freedom award gala. Among those honored will be Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride, killed in the line of duty this year, and Tito Momen, a Nigerian who spent 15 years in an Egyptian jail after converting from Islam to the Mormon faith. Momen, who now lives in Utah, and Wride’s family received ovations Sunday.
The festival culminates Friday with a Fourth of July parade and the Stadium of Fire concert featuring singer Carrie Underwood.
Bush recounted her time as a president’s wife and her efforts to establish her identity as first lady. The former librarian and schoolteacher embraced the causes of literacy, education, women’s rights and global health.
“Every child in America should learn to read. Literacy is an essential foundation for democracy. I know books have power not just to move individuals but to shape our journey as a nation,” she said, citing authors such as Harper Lee and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
She said the Sept. 11 terror attacks early in the second Bush presidency had a profound effect on her experience, imposing “gravity and consequence” to her campaigns. Even President Bush’s tossing a first pitch at the 2001 World Series in New York became a serious affair — not just because another terror strike could occur, but the ball might not reach home plate.
Bush praised her husband for throwing the baseball from the pitcher’s mound, 59 feet from the target, despite Yankee Derek Jeter’s prediction that he would get booed if the ball bounced. She added that taking on such risks is not just for presidents.
“It’s the job of any American, whether they are Republican, Democrat or independent, who has an urge to make a difference to step up to their own pitcher’s mound to face humiliation or even mortal danger.”