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Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s a nice story if you don’t think beyond it: former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, sitting in the Cowboys’ owner’s luxury suite with Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi at a Dallas Cowboys/Green Bay Packers NFL game. “People were upset,” DeGeneres was quoted as saying. “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 sharing any negative tweets, DeGeneres offered a positive one: “ ‘Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.’” DeGeneres then made an observation that also was enthusiastically applauded by her television audience: “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 only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.” (“Ellen DeGeneres explains hanging out with her friend George W. Bush,” By Lisa Respers France, CNN, Oct. 8, 2019)

There was a time when people were not kind to Ellen DeGeneres. In 1997, she was the first leading sitcom actress to come out of the closet and embrace her homosexuality on the air. As reported, her show, Ellen, “faced strong criticism . . . an ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, refused to air the landmark episode.” And “some of the show’s sponsors, Daimler Chrysler among them, withdrew advertisements.” Her show was cancelled the following year. People were very unkind to her: “She recalled the humiliating feeling of being the subject of late-night talk show jokes, while rejecting the premise that she was an LGBTQ ‘leader’ simply because she didn’t want to keep the secret anymore.” (“Ellen DeGeneres,” www.biography.com)

At the time, I recall mentioning Ellen DeGeneres’ name to a student of a Veterans Upward Bound class I taught at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. His smiling response surprised me: “Oh, you mean Ellen ‘Degenerate,’” I replied, “No. I mean Ellen DeGeneres.” He was expressing the widespread, biblically-based, belief that homosexuals were debased.

Times have changed for Ellen DeGeneres. She is reported to be “obscenely wealthy (according to Forbes, Ellen is the 15th-highest-paid celebrity in the world.”) (“Ellen DeGeneres And the Limits of Relatability.” by Shannon Keating, www.buzzfeednews.com, Jan. 10, 2019) She is now among the rich and famous and powerful.

Constance Grady exposes the limitations, and especially the evasiveness, of Ellen DeGeneres’ admonition to be “kind to one another.” In a Vox piece called “Ellen DeGeneres, George W. Bush and the death of uncritical niceness,” Grady writes, “The niceness that Ellen DeGeneres is celebrating in her friendship with George W. Bush . . . is not about kindness for the powerless. It is about kindness for the powerful, for the people who helped to set in place the problems the rest of us are currently living in.” Grady adds, “It’s about avoiding the messy social confrontations and awkwardness by being nice to those who have made the world a worse place.” (October 9, 2019) As will be seen, Grady’s last statement has wide implications.

“Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” That “conservative Republican president” committed far more transgressions than calling for an Amendment to the U. S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage during his successful 2004 re-election campaign.

More accurately: Why is a “gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to” the worst war criminal of the 21st Century? [Noam Chomsky has said the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was the worst war crime of the 21st Century] President Bush lied about Saddam Hussein having threatening weapons of mass destruction to justify invading defenseless Iraq. “Be kind to everyone?” President Bush’s unnecessary war against Iraq resulted in a reported “1 million dead” Iraqis, “4.5 million displaced, 1 million to 2 million widows, 5 million orphans.” (“Bush’s War Totals,” By John Tirman, The Nation, Jan. 28, 2009) On the American side: some 4,550 military persons have been killed and over 33,000 wounded. (See “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” Watson Institute, Brown University, Nov. 2018)

After invading Iraq, President Bush said, “Freedom is on the march in the world. . . . I believe women in the Middle East want to live in a free society.” Also, “I believe mothers and fathers want to raise their children in a free and peaceful world.” And most importantly, he said, “I believe all these things because freedom is not America’s gift to the world, freedom is the almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in the world.” “George W. Bush on Faith,” www.beliefnet.com/politics)

A morally myopic Ellen DeGeneres said, “When I say, ‘be kind to each other . . . I mean be kind to everyone.” Does that mean that she would have shared a luxury suite with and been kind to Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany when black American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals?

Some may believe it is most inappropriate to compare George W. Bush with Adolf Hitler. I assume that is because most mainstream media have avoided dealing with former President Bush’s horrible war crimes, along with continuing to rehabilitate his legacy. And it is not just Bush. What Americans would, in any way, want to compare democratic America with Nazi Germany?

Nevertheless, George W. Bush’s god is as imperialistic as Hitler’s Master Race. Bush and his god should both be tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

There is an abundance of evidence to convict President Bush of war crimes. Raina Khalek provided such evidence in a commentary on a speech Bush gave to “250 women from around the world to commemorate International Women’s Day.” She wrote that he “focused on the women of Iraq and Afghanistan who he proudly proclaimed were ‘learning the blessings of freedom’ thanks to the United States.” He said, “Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” (“Was Life for Iraqi Women Better Uner Saddam?” By Raina Khalek, Facebook. March 19, 2013)

Raina Khalek continued, “Women are anything but ‘liberated.’ . . . Contrary to popular imagination, Iraqi women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist government than women in other Middle Eastern countries.” She stated that the rights women enjoyed under Saddam Hussein – “the right to vote, run for political office, access to education and own property . . . are all but absent under the U. S.-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki.” She also said that “prior to the [UN’s] devastating economic sanctions in the 1990s, Iraq’s education system was top notch and female literacy rates were the highest in the region, reaching 87 percent in 1985.” (Ibid)

“Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” Not really. Raina Khalek said that “Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared in a 2011 report that ‘life in Iraq is actually getting worse for women,’” as “the torture and rape of women detainees in pre-trial detention has continued with impunity under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, but the United States is partly responsible.” (Ibid)

Iraqi-American writer Zainab Salbi described just how worse off Iraqi women became after being “liberated” by President Bush. “There are now more destitute women in Iraq than ever before,” she wrote in 2011. “Estimates of the number of war widows range from one to three million, which is the result of Bush’s war. “These and other socially and economically marginalized women are vulnerable and at high risk of trafficking, organized and forced prostitution, polygamy, domestic violence, and being recruited as suicide bombers, something that the society is still trying to process and understand.” (“Where Are Iraqi Women Today?,” wwwhuffpost.com, May 25, 2011)

The “torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” They were replaced by U.S. military-operated torture chambers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Reported were “photos depicting the humiliation, torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees by their U.S. captors in Abu Ghraib in 2003.” (“Photos: Looking Back at the War in Iraq, 15 years After the U.S. Invaded,” By Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, Mar. 20, 2018)

There is more. Journalist and historian Andy Worthington wanted to “nip this idea ‘that Bush wasn’t so bad’ in the bud.” He stated, “Unless you’ve been away from the planet for the last twenty years, you must be aware that it was George W. Bush who initiated the US’s brutal and thoroughly counter-productive ‘war on terror’ in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which involved authorizing the CIA to set up a secret detention and torture program, establishing a prison outside the law at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, establishing deportation and surveillance programs within the US, invading one country (Afghanistan) in response to the attacks, where US troops remain to this day . . . and invading another country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda, but which was nevertheless destroyed, along the way serving as the crucible for the creation of a newer threat, Daesh, or Islamic State . . .” “Exactly 16 Years Ago, George W. Bush Opened the Floodgates to Torture at Guantanamo,” Common Dreams, Feb. 7, 2018)

“When I said be kind to each other . . . I mean be kind to everyone.”

It’s unfortunate that Ellen DeGeneres was not inspired by Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi. When President Bush secretly flew into “liberated” Iraq in 2008 and held a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al-Zaidi was not kind to Bush. As reported, “He threw both of his shoes at Bush, shouting ‘this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog,’ and ‘this is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.’” (“Photos” Looking Back on the War in Iraq, 15 Years After the U.S. Invaded,” Ibid)

President Bush dodged journalist al- Zaidi’s shoes – and, so far, is doing a good job dodging moral reality. He has help from much of mainstream media, who often describe the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a “mistake” or ”strategic blunder,” not a war crime. In addition Bush is now even providing moral commentary on President Donald Trump, which is prominently covered by the media. His implied criticism of Trump received significant coverage. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported on Bush’s speech “at a policy seminar in New York”: “ ‘We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty . . . We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism,’ “ Bush said, adding. “ ‘Forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.’ ” (“In stunning attack, George W. Bush rebukes Trump, suggesting he promotes falsehoods and prejudice,” By Mark Z. Barabak, Oct, 19, 2017)

Former President Bush’s rehabilitation has also been blessed with a hug from Michelle Obama, wife of former president Barack Obama. She is quoted as calling Bush a “beautiful, funny, kind, sweet man.” And shades of Ellen DeGeneres: Mrs. Obama said to Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager, ‘ “I’d love if we as a country could get back to the place where we didn’t demonize people who disagreed with us.’ “
(“Kindness Is Not Enough,” By Shannon Keating, BuzzFeedNews, Oct. 10, 2019 Another example of myopic morality.

“When I say, ‘Be kind to each other’ . . . I mean be kind to everyone.” George W. Bush was not kind to Karla Faye Tucker, who killed two people with an axe in a burglary. On death row for 14 years, she underwent a Christian conversion. Protesters asked then Governor Bush to give her clemency by turning her death sentence into life imprisonment. She was even interviewed by Larry King, who asked, “What would you say to Governor Bush?” Bush reportedly watched the interview, and derisively mimicked her: “ ‘Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ‘don’t kill me.’ “ He did not show her clemency. This “compassionate conservative” is reported to have “presided over 152 executions while governor of Texas, more than any other modern era American governor.” (“W The Merciless: What We’ll Remember Most About George W. Bush,” Frank Schaeffer, Contributor, HuffPost, May 25, 2011)

Then there is Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey Sheehan was killed fighting in the Iraq War. This grieving mother spent a month camped near President Bush’s ranch in Texas, in an attempt to meet with him, and ask him to explain, “Why did my son die? What was this noble cause you talk about? And,” she continued, “If the cause is so noble, when are you going to send your daughters over there and let somebody else’s son come home?” (“Bereaved mother camps outside Bush ranch,” By Gary Younge in Crawford, Texas, The Guardian, Aug. 10, 2005)

Five days into Cindy Sheehan’s encampment, Bush reportedly expressed his “sympathy,” saying, “This is America. She has the right to her position.” He added, “I thought long and hard about her position . . . which is ‘get out of Iraq now.’” And, he continued, “It would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so.” (“Cindy Sheehan: ‘Bush Was No Better’ Than Donald Trump,” By Matt Lewis, DAILYBEAST, Oct. 23, 2017) Actually Sheehan was asking, “Why did he get America into Iraq.

For George W. Bush, “peace in the long run” (italics added) involves starting forever wars. Tragically, today a “liberated” Iraq is now reported to be erupting in mass protests, “as demonstrators poured into the streets, embittered about poor public services, corruption and unemployment.” (“ ‘Just Give Us a Country’: Thousands in Iraq Protest Corruption,” By Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, Oct.2, 2019)

Myopic morality is especially seen in The United Methodist Church erecting a monument to the worst war criminal of the 21st Century, who is one of their own members I’m referring to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, museum and policy institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). Controlled by the Bush Foundation and not the university, the policy institute’s mission includes “further[ing] the domestic and international goals of the Bush administration, including ‘compassionate conservatism’ and ‘defeating terrorism.’” (“Methodists Against Bush Library Lobby for Vote,” By Gretel C. Kovach and Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2018)

In a television interview, former President Bush himself addressed concerns about naming a library after him at SMU. “I understand there are some who have reservations, and my advice to them is understand that a library and institution would enhance education, be a place for interesting discussion and be a place for people to express their views and write and think, and these universities I think understand that and are excited about the prospects, and so am I.” (“Methodists: No Bush Library at SMU,” ANGELA K. BROWN, Associated Press, The Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2007)

The South Central Jurisdiction’s Mission Council of The United Methodist Church and the Jurisdiction’s Council of Bishops approved the building of the Bush Library at SMU, the Bishops reported as voting “10 to 0, with one abstention.” (“Methodists Against Library Lobby for Vote,” (Ibid) While the Bush Presidential Library will attract researchers and tourists alike, it will be a symbol of myopic morality.

Conversely, there are other United Methodists whose morality embraces all people. Among them is the Rev. Dr. Andrew J. Weaver, now deceased, who led the unsuccessful effort to prevent the Bush Presidential Library and Museum and Policy Institute from desecrating Southern Methodist University. Weaver said, “We’ve had an outpouring of support . . . from those who don’t wish to have their beloved church associated with a man who had authorized torture and a lie-based war of aggression against the people of Iraq.” (“Methodists Opposing Bush Library and Think Tank at SMU,” By Frederick Clarkson, www.politicalcortex.com, Feb. 1, 2007)

Rev. Weaver and others dared to engage in what Constance Grady calls “messy social confrontations” in speaking reality and moral truth to political and ecclesiastical power. Weaver was joined by 14 Bishops, more than 600 ministers and over nine thousand church members. They were no match for those United Methodists committed to the privileged and powerful status quo. But they model a gospel of truth and justice – which is the purest form of kindness.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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