I waited all day for 6 p.m. to roll around. That was when twins Jenna and Barbara Bush were scheduled to take questions during an online chat, hosted by their dad's campaign Web site. I'd been prevented from quizzing them during the Republican convention by a series of velvet ropes and unnecessarily tetchy security guards. But this chat had been billed as a chance for the first daughters to "discuss the importance of all Americans voting in this year's presidential election -- especially their fellow women and young adults."
I was not naive. I knew I'd have to flood the zone in order to get my questions answered. So I recruited two young adult women friends. We were careful to be polite, keep the queries simple, and not let partisan politics obstruct this opportunity for straightforward communication with the daughters of the president.
But every time we submitted a carefully wrought question about reproductive rights, we'd refresh our screens to find that the Bushes had chosen to reply to a query like this one, from Stephen Shirk of West Chester, Penn. "Girls, being the children of one of the most admired men in the 'World', how do you perceive your father at this point in your lives?" wrote Shirk. "Is he more like your father or more like someone we call the president? I love your mom as the first lady also. She is the best ever."
Here, reproduced in order of our mounting frustration, are a collection of the questions we tried to ask Jenna and Barbara Bush:
What is your position on gay marriage?
Why should women vote for your father?
Have either of you ever considered getting an abortion?
Would you support your dad even if you didn't believe in his views?
Your dad might get the opportunity to appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices, and with Roe vs. Wade being such an important issue, how is he going to make the choice?
As a young woman, access to affordable birth control is one of my primary concerns. How will your dad make it more affordable and accessible for me?
Women earn 70 percent of what men earn for the same work. What is your dad planning to do to level the playing field for us?
Did you see "Fahrenheit 9/11"?
Have you considered enlisting to serve your country in the military?
Do you consider yourselves feminists?
Do you get an allowance?
If your dad doesn't win on Tuesday, what will you wear on Wednesday?
Do you and the Kerry girls ever just hang?
What would happen if one of you married Prince William?
Naked parties: for or against?
Cooler relative: Jeb or Billy?
Do you ever wonder if you were adopted?
Do you ever hope that you were adopted?
As twins, which one of you is the Mary-Kate?
Alas, as the 7 o'clock hour drew nigh, it became increasingly clear that we were getting no love from the Bush women. Maybe we should have sucked up more, like Kyser Thompson from New York, who successfully asked if the sisters got nervous addressing big crowds and who made sure to note that she "loved [their] outfits on the trail!" Or Brandon Kenif from Shawnee, Kan., who began, "You two are awesome!" and requested an autographed photo before asking what inspired them to get into politics. Marshall Sherman from Justin, Texas, added a postscript to his question about whether campaigning is tiring that asked the sisters to "Tell your Dad all of us homeschoolers down in Texas are pulling and praying for him!"
Incidentally, the Bushes wrote that they didn't get nervous because "[they] know [they] are working for such an important and honorable cause." They got involved because they love their dad and "this is the first time that we have been old enough to fully understand what is going on in our Dad's campaign and we realize that he is definitely the right man to be President." And yes, Marshall, of course they get tired! But, they wrote, "We have actually had some of our funniest moments when we've all been tired and delirious riding around the country in a mini-van."
Cash reward to anyone who can send Salon footage of these alleged minivan antics.
Nestled amid all the RNC talking points and the suspiciously well spell-checked answers was what we think was a dig at Democratic candidate for first lady, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Michael Galano from New York had asked how their parents' careers had influenced their choices, and the Bushes' response included the observation, "As I'm sure you know, our mother was a teacher and a librarian." That was just the thing that Heinz Kerry did not know -- or had temporarily forgotten -- when she claimed that Laura Bush had never held a "real job" last week.
The twins took one critical question from Ashley Pickard from Los Gatos, Calif. "I am taking a women's (sic) in History class right now," wrote Pickard, "and my professor seems to never stop talking about Bush, and her opinion regarding his lack of interest in women. How would you respond to this accusation?" Jenna and Barbara replied that their dad "clearly respects women -- he lives with three of us who are extremely opinionated and do not hesitate to speak our mind. Barney, our dog, is the only other male in our family, so Dad is completely outnumbered." They then rattled off the names of the Bush administration's high-ranking women -- Rice, Chao, Veneman, Norton -- with suspicious alacrity. Perhaps Uncle Karl was at the keyboard with them.
And if so, we have just one question: Naked parties -- for or against?