Jenna Bush becomes America’s quiet sweetheart today — a bride wrapped in delicate organza, bound for a new destiny as wife, honeymooner, teacher, author and occasional first daughter, at least for a few more months.
She marries longtime boyfriend Henry Hager this evening in the ultimate down-home wedding, with vows exchanged under a big Texas sky followed by a proper shindig in an air-conditioned tent at sunset, out where the bluebonnets grow and the temperature will hover around 92.
“Oh, I’d say Jenna is a real favorite around here, and around the country. We’re all real happy for her,” said Donald Citrano, proprietor of the Coffee Shop Cafe, out on George W. Bush Parkway just a few minutes’ drive from wedding central — the Bush family’s 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch near Crawford.
Mr. Citrano will treat his local patrons to complimentary slices of wedding cake today.
Even the Iraq war protesters are giving it a rest. The dozen holdovers left over from peace activist Cindy Sheehan’s encampment near the ranch three years ago have said they will honor the wedding by not shouting and waving placards at the expected 200 or so guests.
An 18-foot angel statue that overlooks the main intersection in Crawford is now wearing a veil and holding a bouquet, and there’s a storefront banner congratulating the couple.
But that’s about it for pomp, circumstance and spectacle. Miss Bush’s valuing of privacy and her decision to wed on home turf rather than at the White House has kept today’s nuptials from turning into a media circus — or royal wedding.
Background information on the bride
Background information on the groom
Video: Bush motorcade arrives
Video: Tiny Crawford awaits Bush wedding
Last night’s festivities avoided Crawford altogether for Salado, a former stagecoach stop an hour’s drive away — the groom’s family hosting the rehearsal dinner at the Old Salado Springs Celebration Center, followed by a “Texas-sized celebration” at the Salado Silver Spur Theater.
President Bush has made only the vaguest public allusions to the wedding, but he leads today’s Mother’s Day-themed White House radio address with some “Father of the Bride” words.
“Today is my daughter Jenna’s wedding day. This is a joyous occasion for our family, as we celebrate the happy life ahead of her and her husband, Henry. It’s also a special time for Laura, who this Mother’s Day weekend will watch a young woman we raised together walk down the aisle,” Mr. Bush said.
One potential skunk at the wedding — Texas’ May weather. There is a 30 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms and a 20 percent chance of evening rain and the Web site Weather for You makes note of something Texans know about late spring — thunderstorms “may be severe.”
While American well-wishers are busy signing online cards emblazoned with cute inscriptions like “Jenna ‘n’ Henry,” the event itself has yet to turn into a larger-than-life symbol of national romance.
“Honestly, I don’t think it means much at all. Jenna has done a good job these last few years remaining out of the celebrity spotlight. I doubt that the majority of people even know she is getting married. And I think that is how she would like it,” said Michael Webb, a North Carolina-based author of 16 books on romance, and founder of www.theromantic.com, an online advisory site.
A stifled press has much to do with this phenomenon. The normal media glare has been dimmed to a soft, appealing glow.
To the annoyance of an international press corps poised for their own wedding news feed, the White House has eked out only neutral details this week with a prudent hand, with only a vague promise that a nuptial photo might — and the operative word is “might” — be released tomorrow.
But hope springs eternal in the press. The 705-member population of Crawford itself has been crowded and elbowed by tourists, Secret Service details and of course journalists — who have scrutinized and extrapolated upon the wedding, the family and Lone Star style a la Bush.
“I have to take issue with some of that coverage. There’s a misconception when people think of Texas as only cowboy boots and barbecue. Texas is like everywhere else. Though a few have slipped a pair of boots on under their wedding gown, I don’t have brides who go overboard on the whole thing,” said Karol Welsh, founder of Dallas Wedding Planner, a resource for couples and planners alike.
But some smell a rat.
“Jenna’s wedding is an excuse for cheap media shots at her, and her father,” said Tom Blumer, a columnist with Newsbusters, a press watchdog Web site maintained by the Media Research Center.
He has followed the coverage for weeks and was particularly irked by accounts from MSNBC, the Houston Chronicle and other news organizations that sullied simple wedding stories with details of Miss Bush’s misdemeanor arrests seven years ago when she was a college student.
“Like so much about the Bush presidency, the wedding of daughter Jenna brings out a strange strain of media bias and bitterness,” agreed Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, a conservative political blog.
He was annoyed by an Associated Press report that noted, “Jenna’s father is not running for re-election. The frivolity of a big White House wedding in the middle of an unpopular war would have used up what little political capital he has.”