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Ellen ignores history to defend yukking it up with George W. Bush at Cowboys game

Contributor Ken Schultz is all for inclusion, understanding, and friendship. But in this commentary, he takes issue with fellow comic Ellen DeGeneres, and her defense of her friendship with the staunchly anti-LGBTQ former president.

George W. Bush (left) and Ellen DeGeneres
| Ellen via YouTube

This past weekend, Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi were invited by Jerry Jones’s daughter Charlotte to sit in the owner’s suite at AT&T Stadium and watch Sunday’s Cowboys/Packers game. This by itself would normally be seen in this space as a sign of progress.

For one thing, Outsports celebrates LGBTQ inclusion in the athletic world and you can’t get much more inclusive than one of the most prominent out celebrities on the planet being invited to take in a game by the owner of the NFL’s most popular team. Ordinarily, this would be a quick and happy piece with a couple of funny quotes sprinkled throughout and we’d all move on with our lives.

Except during this particular game, the NFL on Fox telecast took a crowd shot of Ellen taking in the clash from the owner’s box. And seated next to her was another very famous person: former President George W. Bush. He’s also well-known in the LGBTQ community for entirely different reasons.

Screenshots of the two yukking it up quickly went viral on Twitter. And I’ll let Ellen take it from here:

“But during the game, they showed a shot of George and me laughing together. And so people were upset. 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.

“But here’s one tweet that I loved. This person says: ‘Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.’”

At that point, the audience burst into the most predictable applause break in the history of daytime television. The only way the moment could have pandered any more shamelessly is if she brought out Taylor Swift to sing the tweet while wearing a sign reading “Clap if you support the troops.”

Ellen went on to paint her interaction with Bush as two old friends who don’t let their political disagreements get in the way of their ability to enjoy a football game together. As she explained...

“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. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different...

“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Again, applause. Ellen worked as hard as she could to portray her fun day with Bush as a moment to heal the country’s wounds and her studio audience lapped it up. I’m sure she would have loved for the home audience to do so as well.

Except here’s the thing. It’s only possible to consider this a feel-good moment if you don’t give a damn about history. And when it comes to George W. Bush and the LGBTQ community, there’s a lot of it. Quite frankly, it seems astonishing that anyone from the community could spend three hours with him and just ignore it.

As we all know, football games have a ton of pauses between the action. There’s a huddle between every play, commercial breaks galore, and a full 12 minutes of halftime. Since Ellen and George W. Bush are apparently such good friends, the Cowboys game probably gave them plenty of space for conversation. And because Ellen attended the game with her wife, she missed a chance to introduce the two of them properly:

“George, have you met Portia? You’ll love her, she’s the best! Hey, you know what’s weird? You’ll like this... it’s adorable! See, I’ve been married to Portia for over 11 years. While you... and this is one of our cute little disagreements... you once advocated to amend the Constitution to specially ban my marriage because you thought it was ‘weakening the good influence of society.’ Can you beat that?! You say potato, I say po-tah-to, I guess!”

Or maybe during an instant replay time out, instead of chowing down on nachos together, Ellen might have been inspired to ask her pigskin buddy...

“Hey George, when Jason Garrett challenged that call, you know what that reminded me of? That one time when you were in The White House for eight years and didn’t challenge ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ even once. You just kept that little red flag in your pocket the whole time! Even said ‘I’m a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Man!’ You must’ve been saving your time outs for something really important, right? Right?

“Oh, and thanks for sharing your nachos with me, by the way...you ordered them to leave off the jalepeños? Had them make it your way? Is that like the time you threatened to veto The Matthew Shepard Law so it never made it out of Congress? I guess you had it your way that time, too...”

As the Packers opened up a big lead and held on for a 34-24 win, Ellen and Bush’s conversation might have had the chance to drift toward the performance of her favorite quarterback...

“So George, do you think my friend Aaron Rodgers has a shot at the Pro Bowl again this year? It looks like it’s gonna be tough. Hey, you know what might convince people to vote for him? If he had Karl Rove plant gay marriage bans on ballots in 11 states and call it ‘moral values.’ I’ve heard that works real well!”

All in all, just a real missed opportunity to celebrate each other’s differences, I guess.

Look, of course it’s a good idea if two people with opposing viewpoints and philosophies can still find common interests and ways to get along. But this isn’t that at all. This is cloaking deliberate historical amnesia of one of the very worst anti-LGBTQ administrations of modern times in the guise of “Can’t we just be kind to each other?”

Ellen DeGeneres is whitewashing an ugly history while complaining that those who actually remember that history accurately are the real bullies. So while she and Bush might have made one Twitter fan have faith in America again, in reality, they’re engaging in an exercise of deepest possible cynicism. And the worst part is that they’re going to get away with portraying it as a warm and fuzzy made-for-the-Hallmark-Channel narrative.

Someone once wrote something clever about what happens to those who don’t remember history. I forget what that is exactly but I’m sure it’ll come up the next time a wealthy LGBTQ celebrity cozies up to a famous leader who tried to take away our rights.

Once the game ended and they were headed back into the real world, perhaps it should have inspired Ellen to ask one more question of her BFF...

“Well, it’s been fun! Gonna be a busy week on the show... the Supreme Court’s hearing a case that will decide whether companies can fire LGBTQ people just for being who they are. Say, I’ve always wondered this, maybe you can help... what kind of jackass appoints those anti-gay justices anyway?”

Ken Schultz is a comedian, baseball fan and contributor to Outsports as well as BaseballPro, CubsDen and formerly BPWrigleyville. Follow him on Twitter @kenschultz_ The views expressed by Ken in this op-ed are his own, and not necessarily the view of Outsports, its staff, SB Nation or Vox Media.

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