Laura Bush (search) is reprising her role as her husband's first defender, making several trips to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast as President Bush's approval ratings sink to their lowest level yet.
Mrs. Bush is highlighting the positive that has come out of the storm, telling the stories of strangers helping one another in a time of tragedy.
Mrs. Bush said Tuesday that much more human good than bad has come from the disaster, despite what people see on TV. She said the evacuees she has met in her three trips to the Gulf Coast (search) are hopeful and thankful that they don't have to start from rock bottom because of the donations and the kindness of strangers.
"That's what I've seen at each of the shelters I've visited," she said. "I've never heard a single word of complaint."
Mrs. Bush has performed this job before. With approval ratings much higher than her husband's, she was sent out across the country to help him win re-election. She also made a goodwill trip this year to the Middle East, where her husband is especially unpopular.
This time Mrs. Bush is focusing on stories of human compassion while the president is under a barrage of criticism about the government's slow response to the disaster. Some have suggested that he would have acted faster if so many of the victims weren't mostly poor and black, remarks that Mrs. Bush condemned as "disgusting."
She also blamed the media for focusing on the negative in the recovery efforts.
"We've seen terrible, terrible things and we've seen unbelievably unselfish acts of giving as well by communities all across the United States and, of course, many more unselfish acts of giving than bad things," she said in a speech Tuesday to the conservative Heritage Foundation (search). "Maybe the media hasn't shown us that much, but we've read about it and we do know about it."
Mrs. Bush has traveled to the hurricane region with her husband and in solo trips where she has visited with evacuees. On the same day that her husband was in Mobile, Ala., offering his notorious compliments of now-resigned FEMA Director Mike Brown, Mrs. Bush was serving food to the sick, the elderly and families who fled with young children to the Cajundome arena in Lafayette, La.
"Some things are working very, very well in Louisiana, and certainly this center is one of them," she said.
Three days later, Mrs. Bush stayed mostly behind the scenes when she visited the storm zone at her husband's side. At the Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., she worked the room of storm evacuees on her own — chatting with women and children who were being sheltered in a huge room at the nondenominational church.
Later that day in Poplarville, Miss., the Bushes visited a meeting of state and local officials from throughout the hurricane region. The officials sat subdued while the president talked about how the region will recover, but they leapt to their feet in a huge standing ovation when he pointed out his wife at the side of the room.
"I'm traveling with good company," he said.