Opinion | Ellen’s monologue about Bush shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem

By Devi Ruia, Senior Staff Columnist

Ellen DeGeneres did something that absolutely no one asked her to do last week. She defended her friendship with George W. Bush.

Photos of DeGeneres laughing with Bush at a football game surfaced on the internet and prompted her monologue about her relationship with the former president. DeGeneres spoke about kindness and having friends with different belief systems — but she’s completely missing the problem at hand.

Bush is not just a random conservative individual. For eight years, he served as president of the United States and is directly responsible for a litany of terrible things. That’s why it made no sense when DeGeneres belittled the criticism surrounding the pictures of her and Bush and compared it to having friends who support a rival sports team. Bush has never truly answered for his many misdeeds and asking people to just move past those things is obtuse and premature.

“Sorry, until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War (including American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars — emotional & otherwise — inflicted on our military that served his folly), we can’t even begin to talk about kindness,” tweeted Mark Ruffalo — an on-screen and real-life superhero.

The Iraq War is the worst part of Bush’s mostly terrible legacy. The death toll of the war is estimated at about half a million lives lost — maybe more. The war was fueled by a series of lies told to the American people and, as president, Bush is to blame for most of them — although Dick Cheney certainly holds a lot of responsibility as well. Bush even wrote in his memoir that when asked if American forces should use waterboarding — which many say violates the Geneva Conventions — to question potential terrorists, he responded “damn right.”

Ruffalo is right that Bush has never had to answer for his actions. It seems as though DeGeneres has forgotten about all of the atrocities that happened under Bush’s watch — and unfortunately she’s not the only one.

Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon originally tweeted in support of Ellen’s statement but deleted her tweet following the understandable backlash. Kristen Bell also posted on Instagram in support of DeGeneres and deleted her post as well following the backlash that she received. Many other celebrities posted or commented in support of DeGeneres’ statement as well, which is disappointing, but not all that surprising.

Since Trump has become president, people have seemingly started to forget about how terrible Bush was. Yes, Trump is exceptionally awful and more explicitly unfit for office based on his hateful rhetoric. But just because he makes Bush look favorable in comparison doesn’t mean we can forget Bush’s misdeeds. Plus, Trump has yet to start a devastating war and will hopefully be voted out of office before he even has a chance to do so — so let’s not allow Trump’s sins to absolve Bush of his.

It is also understandable that the people who have supported Ellen want to view her and Bush’s friendship as an example of something wholesome and positive in this time of intense partisan bickering. Ellen is correct when she points out that we should all strive to be kind to others, but friendship with people on the other side of the political spectrum isn’t possible for everyone. When people support policies or ideologies that directly threaten the lives of other individuals, it’s insane to ask those individuals to befriend those that threaten their existence.

“It’s kind of incredible how conservatives … have been able to craft this narrative that we should be nice to them while they literally oppress and kill us.” writer Kara Brown tweeted.

Bush wanted to create a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Ellen is an out lesbian who is married to a woman. Maybe that is something that Ellen can look past to be friends with Bush and that’s admirable — though it’s something that is inherently more possible for privileged individuals.

“When you’re a wealthy person who has a lot of privilege and you’ve been wealthy for a really long time, the effects of politics are largely insignificant to you,” political correspondent Emma Vigeland said in an interview on “The Damage Report.”

Ellen does use her platform for political activism on occasion, but her response to her friendship with Bush shows the fundamental disconnect that her privilege affords her. Being friends with people whose politics threaten their livelihood is not easy for people who aren’t in Ellen’s position of power and wealth.

“Families who can’t afford health care don’t get a ‘choice,’ women in Louisiana who might lose access to abortion don’t get to ‘choose’ to stay out of it. People getting fired for being trans don’t get to, either,” tweeted Erin Ryan, host of the podcast “Hysteria.”

Kindness and respect to other individuals should be something that everyone on both sides of the aisle practice whenever possible, but friendship is a stretch when it comes to people like Bush. Bush started two destructive wars, is responsible for illegal torture and the financial crisis happened on his watch — partially as a result of his actions.

Ellen’s monologue about her relationship with Bush shows that she misunderstands the reason for people’s criticism. We do need to strive to be kind to others, but there are limits when the other person is responsible for so many reprehensible acts.