The early ‘90s gave rise to one of the strangest family feuds of all time: The Bush family—as in President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush—and the Simpsons…as in the fictional one from TV’s The Simpsons. This dispute had some near-Hatfields and McCoys levels of tension.
“The dumbest thing I had ever seen.”
A few of the things America couldn’t get enough of in 1990: Wilson Philips. Dances with Wolves. And The Simpsons, the newly launched animated primetime hit on the upstart Fox network, formerly a series of vignettes on The Tracey Ullman Show. People bought T-shirts with Bart Simpson saying “don’t have a cow, man!” and Homer saying “D’oh!” by the truckload. Decidedly not a fan: First Lady Barbara Bush. In an October 1990 interview with People, Bush derided the dreck passing for popular culture, and she singled out The Simpsons as “the dumbest thing I had ever seen,” adding “but it’s a family thing, and I guess it’s clean.” The media ignored the backhanded compliment and mostly only spread the first part.
The Writer’s Response
Bush’s public diss of The Simpsons was big news, and of course made its way back to the people who made The Simpsons. A room full of clever, funny writers could have easily issued a cutting response, but they didn’t. Instead, they wrote a letter (made public) to Barbara Bush in the character of kindly Marge Simpson. “I recently read your criticism of my family,” Simpson wrote. “I was deeply hurt. Heaven knows we’re far from perfect and, if truth be known, maybe just a wee bit short of normal; but as Dr. Seuss says, ‘a person is a person.’”
Bush duly apologized in letter form. “I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.”
Everything was settled…until 1992, when President Bush ran for re-election. At a convention for broadcasters, he promised to “keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The Simpsons fired back, editing a clip of Bush’s speech playing on the family TV, after which Bart says, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end of the Depression, too.” The Simpsons won that round…and Bush lost the election.
But the taste of sour grapes apparently lingered. In 1996, The Simpsons aired an episode called “Two Bad Neighbors.” A send-up of Dennis the Menace, former president George H.W. Bush moves in across the street from the Simpsons, and Homer and Bart make his life a living nightmare, forcing him to move out…and the Homer-like Gerald Ford to move in.