The twins talk

Jenna and Barbara finally open their mouths.

Published September 1, 2004 10:01PM (EDT)

The twins have spoken! And, it turns out, Jenna's OK!

President Bush's twin daughters have been all over New York City this week. But their behavior in public and with the press has suggested that they arrived outfitted with electroshock collars and Secret Service guys waiting to zap them if they opened their traps. They even had a no-interview policy at their own "R: The Party" opening bash on Sunday night. And at yesterday's "W Stands for Women" briefing they sat as silent as gargoyles as their aunt and grandmother addressed the crowd.

But on Tuesday at a FEDPAC lunch "Tribute to First Lady Laura Bush" at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, both sisters spoke to a crowd that included their grandmother Barbara Bush, former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Jenna -- the blond U.T. grad who recently gave photographers "the tongue" -- looked tan and healthy in a white shift dress with brown piping. She spoke in voice that was raspy, deep and confident, working the crowd with a distinctly Southern and self-deprecating grace. "It's so much fun to be in a room full of strong, powerful women who all love my mom and dad," she said. She referred to her grandmother as "Barbara 'The Enforcer' Bush" and made light of her hell-raiser reputation by announcing that her family calls her "Barbara [the grandmother]'s revenge on [the younger] George."

She also gratified the non-anorexics among us -- and tortured journalists who were cordoned off from the lunch tables -- by recalling the European tour she had taken with her mother. "We got to have so much fun together eating, touring museums, eating, shopping, eating and, well, eating. It's only appropriate that we're here today at a luncheon."

OK, so she wasn't Lenny Bruce, but points to a 22-year-old who feels comfortable advocating calorie consumption as something fun in front of a room of stick-thin Type-A women.

She was a lot easier on the ears than her sister, who clearly prides herself on being v. serious. Barbara -- a brunet celery stalk dressed in a décolletage-proud silk blouse and black skirt -- apparently lost her Texas accent during her tenure at Yale and spoke mostly about her mother's global women's welfare and Afghanistan and healthcare. Trust us, you have heard it before.

Her only moment of levity came when she told the story about how her mother, sister and friends used to dress up in matching pajamas and do a conga line to "the Pointer Sisters song 'Fire.'" The image was deeply troubling, yes, but also sort of anticlimactic since it was a vignette the sisters had already deployed in an A&E special about their mother that was excerpted on "Good Morning America" this week. Also, girls, Bruce "No Surrender" Springsteen wrote "Fire."

When mom took the stage, dressed in an aqua suit with Peter Pan collar, she acknowledged how thrilled she was to have her daughters with her on this, her and her husband's "last campaign." She recited some nerve-jangling statistics about how "we've really come a long way as a party" since the National Federation for Republican Women was founded in 1936, during the bad old days of Franklin Roosevelt's second administration, when there were only 16 Republican senators and six Republican governors in office. These days, Bush chirpily told her 1,200 lunch companions, there are 28 Republican governors -- including the leaders of the country's four largest states -- and more Republican than Democratic state legislators.

Bush later smilingly knifed vice presidential candidate John Edwards. She told the crowd of right-thinking sisters that when it comes to healthcare, "we don't want our doctor to have to close her office because trial lawyers have forced her to."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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