Ellen DeGeneres didn’t just sit next to George W. Bush at a football game this weekend. According to the comedian, she’s friends with him.
In the opening monologue of her daytime talk show, DeGeneres responded to the scrutiny of her decision to get chummy with a president who repeatedly lied to the American public about whether Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and the reasons that the United States spent trillions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, those wars — which we are still in — played a not insignificant role in bankrupting the American economy in 2008.
But missing the point entirely, DeGeneres framed the issue as simply a matter of her hanging out with someone with different opinions, not a man repeatedly accused of being a war criminal. "People were upset,” she said. “They thought: Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president? A lot of people were mad. And they did what people do when they're mad... they tweet.”
Rather than admitting that, hey, maybe it’s bad to kick it with someone whose administration tortured lots and lots of people — and then repeatedly sought to justify it — DeGeneres showed her audience a screenshot of a tweet that read: “Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.”
Finally, someone gets it, DeGeneres thought!
“Exactly,” she said. “Here's the thing: I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have.”
DeGeneres added that while she’s vegan, she’s still friends with people who wear fur.
“Just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them,” DeGeneres concluded, continuing to not get it. “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don't only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
But again, it’s not about what Bush thinks. That’s not the issue — it’s about what he did over and over again while he was in office and who those policies harmed.
Although many of the responses on Twitter and Facebook to initial reports about a living lesbian legend palling around with Bush at this weekend’s Cowboy game suggested his administration wasn’t a disaster for LGBTQ+ people, that’s a nasty bit of revisionist thinking. Bush may have warmed up to equality in recent years — saying in 2015 he has “mellowed” on the subject of same-sex marriage — but he was no friend to the LGBTQ+ community during his eight years in the White House.
Among other things, Bush supported a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage at the federal level and called the groundbreaking 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on marriage equality “troubling.” He has also referred to LGBTQ+ rights as “special rights” and claimed he wasn't sure whether homosexuality is a choice. Throughout his career, he opposed gay inclusion in the Boy Scouts, same-sex adoptions, and LGBTQ+ inclusive hate crime laws.
Bush can paint all the intimate nude portraits he wants, but that doesn’t mean that DeGeneres — or anyone else — should be treating him like a harmless, lovable grandfather. Finding common ground with people different from you is great. Normalizing the erosion of basic human rights is not.