We're all being unkind to George W. Bush. That's what Ellen DeGeneres declared in her show's monologue Monday, responding to criticism by many — especially in our community — that her appearance in a football owner's box with the 43rd president was distasteful. Aside from the fact that Bush invaded a country, started a war based on lies, and presided over the killing of innumerable civilians, the irony of the most famous LGBTQ person on the planet yukking it up with one of the most notorious homophobes was painful.
The timing was also egregious; the next day, today, the Supreme Court was weighing whether employers can legally fire us for being LGBTQ. Our odds aren't great, not only because Bush stacked the court with people who don't like us, but he recommended a homophobe and transphobe who Donald Trump (another popular vote loser!) ended up putting on the high court's bench — accused drunken sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh.
DeGeneres's response to the critiques, in which she smirked, cracked puns, and bragged about her new iPhone, was a condescending lecture on embracing people who think differently than we do — the animal-lover even declared she's pals with folks who wear fur (was this a reference to the Kardashians she regularly trots out on her show?). This reductive argument is insulting to anyone who lived through the early 2000s. George W. Bush is not just your cranky cousin who thinks Hillary Clinton is a serial killer and Liz Warren is Lenin's granddaughter. Bush was the most powerful person on earth, who based much of his reelection on motivating conservatives to vote by endorsing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage — a marriage DeGeneres is in right now.
Imagine if Congress or the states acquiesced to Bush's hateful amendment and it became enshrined into law. Amending the Constitution is a Herculean process; many of us might have died without ever having the right to legally marry in this country. And even though Bush failed (like he did with many things), he ginned up so much hate against us, we still feel much of it today. You can draw a direct line from George W. Bush to Kim Davis to Mike Pence.
When it comes to Bush, we're not talking about someone who released a book of remorse or went on a press tour where he repeatedly apologized to us (or the Iraqi people). After his disastrous eight years, Bush slunk off to Texas to paint mediocre pieces of art, and most of us couldn't be happier to no longer see him in our news feeds. Reimagining him as some folksy cowboy hero is ludicrous — his crimes are no better because Donald Trump's may be worse. Unlike DeGeneres, I refuse to grade presidents on a curve. But as many people have posited, maybe DeGeneres in five years will be cutting the ribbon with 45 to Trump Tower St. Petersburg.
Twitter whataboutism directed at Michelle Obama — "She gave George W. Bush a mint!" "They're best friends!" — reeks of racism. Obama is a first lady, and she and her husband directly succeeded the Bushes in the White House; the expectations of them are entirely different from those of DeGeneres. The Obamas and nearly all first families have always centered succession and the peaceful transfer of power. While Michelle Obama has the weight of presidential expectations on her shoulders, DeGeneres does not. If DeGeneres asked to not be seated with Bush, it likely wouldn't have made the front page of The Washington Post.
Our community should never forget the bravery DeGeneres showed in 1997 and how her decision to come out changed all our lives; we owe her that. It's disappointing, though, that the respect doesn't always feel reciprocal. At the very least, Ellen, maybe sit next to Laura next time.
Neal Broverman is the executive editor of The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.