When did it become mandatory that friendships be ideologically pure?
The snapshot of the liberal woman and the conservative man sitting next to each other at a recent pro football game went viral. How dare talk shot host Ellen DeGeneres, the outrage on the left went, chat with former U.S. President George W. Bush?
"Sorry," tweeted actor Mark Ruffalo, "until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War (including American-led 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."
His message was liked by nearly 285,000 Twitter users and retweeted nearly 65,000 times.
Actress Susan Sarandon tweeted a quote from an Out magazine article that criticized the talk show host for "framing 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."
DeGeneres, according to actress/activist Rose McGowan, is, simply, "a fake toady," she said on Twitter.
Such comments are why Hollywood has such little credibility, outside of the movies it makes.
The right criticizing Bush for sitting next to the liberal, gay icon? We looked — and maybe there's some criticism somewhere — but we couldn't find any. It's a matter of respect and tolerance.
DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, and assumedly Bush and his wife, Laura, were invited to the game by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his daughter, Charlotte Jones.
The talk show host had the money quote on the situation: "Here's the thing," she said. "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. But just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them."
Being friends, behind the scenes if not on the floor of the respective houses of Congress, used to be the way things got done in Washington, D.C. We think of President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, and the Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen, a Republican, working together on the civil rights bill in the 1960s. We think of President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and the House majority leader, Tip O'Neill, a Democrat, working together on tax cuts in the 1980s that propelled the economy to years of economic growth.
Locally, we think of John Bonner, the white rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, agreeing to form in 1963 an informal and unpublicized committee of black and white leaders to help negotiate a peaceful transition from the city's Jim Crow laws to nonviolent integration of facilities.
And more recently, we think of First-Centenary United Methodist Church agreeing to host and televise earlier this year the funeral of Rachel Held Evans, whose progressive views of Christianity were held sacrosanct by many in the LBGTQ community.
Every member of St. Paul's in the 1960s and First-Centenary in the 2010s may not have agreed with everything involved in the individual decisions to reach out, but collectively they were both supportive in the name of love and brotherhood.
It is in that spirit that DeGeneres enjoyed a football game with Bush. They weren't thrown together to see what would happen, they both were accompanied by their significant others, and they weren't there to talk politics.
"I was rooting for the Packers," DeGeneres said. "So I had to hide my cheese hat in Portia's purse." Bush, living in Dallas, is likely a Cowboys fan.
She mentioned the controversy on her show last week, acknowledging those who were upset at the seeming conviviality between the pair. And when they're mad, she said, they tweet.
The Bushes, through a spokesman, appreciated DeGeneres's words.
"President and Mrs. Bush really enjoyed being with Ellen and Portia," the spokesman said, "and they appreciated Ellen's comments about respecting one another. They respect her."
The former president, rather than being disrespected, has grown in stature to many since leaving office. Not only did he choose not to criticize his successor as President Barack Obama did his successor, but he has remained a strong but quiet backer of wounded warriors and the treatment of AIDS in Africa and has developed a good-natured relationship with former first lady Michelle Obama, his frequent seatmate at official functions.
"When I say, 'Be kind to one another,'" DeGeneres said, "I don't mean only the same people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everybody."
Both she and Bush have been bombarded, at times in their careers, with cruel words and intolerance. It's evident both have found the right way to handle it. More Americans should take the hint.