In PW's September 17 issue, it fell to me to run a review of Jenna Bush's book, Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope (HarperCollins). It's not a bad book, although I doubt it would be noticed, much less published, were it not for its White House author. But what needs to be said about Ana's Story can't be said fairly within a PW review. When the president's relatives make news, there are always political ramifications. And when the president's daughter writes a book, it's a political act.
Ana is the pseudonym Jenna Bush assigns a luckless but determined (so far) 17-year-old she met while volunteering as an intern for UNICEF in Panama. Ana, born HIV-positive, survives a childhood worse than anything Dickens dishes out and then, undereducated and unmarried, has a baby of her own (HIV-negative). Inspired by Ana's resilience, Jenna hopes to motivate young readers to volunteer to help causes like Ana's; in an appendix, she suggests canned-food drives, becoming a pen pal, tutoring, raising money for UNICEF. (Among dozens of ideas, writing to Congress or the White House does not figure.)
The book is moving and naïve. That's all it would be, if the author wasn't Jenna Bush. Since Ana's Story pubbed on September 28, the media, led by Diane Sawyer of 20/20, has lined up to laud her “passionate” use of her “political power” to help other people (those are the words of an MSNBC.com writer, reporting on Jenna's television interview with Today's Ann Curry). Can someone please ask Jenna why she doesn't encourage her readers to activate their own political power, or at least think about our government's role in the global community she hopes to form?
Jenna's interviewers prompt her to talk about how proud her parents must be (Curry even told Jenna how proud she'd be if she were Jenna's parent), as if they can separate Bush the dad from Bush the president. Could they please consider that we might need to hear more about Bush as president and less as dad, even on the occasion of this book? Because guess which president has unilaterally blocked funds designed to help Ana?
In one example of how Bush's policies belie Jenna's message, the president has refused to fund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which promotes family planning (abortions are excluded), prevention of AIDS and HIV, reproductive health, safe motherhood and gender equality in access to education. The United States helped found UNFPA almost 40 years ago. But in 2002, the Bush administration claimed that UNFPA funded coercive abortions in China, and despite an investigation by the State Department that refuted the allegation that same year, and despite bipartisan protest, President Bush has since withheld a total of $195 million allocated by Congress to UNFPA. (To put this in context, 180 countries contributed last year, led by the Netherlands, which gave more than $75 million.)
The president's decision to block Congress's 2007 allocation of $34 million was announced last month—through a letter to Congress by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte dated September 6, 2007—just a few weeks before Ana's Story appeared in print.
Okay, accuse me of visiting the sins of the father on the daughter. That's not my point, but I won't contest it. You can't separate White House relatives so neatly. Jenna wouldn't have a book without W., nor would the media otherwise cast its light so generously on her. (You'll also see Jenna in People, Time, Glamour and CosmoGirl.) But can we please avoid visiting the virtues of the daughter on the father? And can we go further? Can we take up Ana's story as a challenge to Bush to fund UNFPA? Because, really, who makes a better case than Jenna does for UNFPA's initiatives?
Yes, get kids to volunteer out of empathy, not to gussy up their college applications. Yes, get them to trick-or-treat for UNICEF. But don't kid us, and don't tell our children that volunteerism is the answer to social injustice.
Please don't let the womenfolk divert us from the president's policies with their literary endeavors. Send Jenna to talk about Ana, and let's get started on her father's refusal to listen to Congress on all the Anas; all the empathy in the world won't help Ana as much as UNFPA's family planning and HIV-prevention programs would help Ana's daughter.