Saturday’s dedication event at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture was a special moment that marked an end to years of frustrations for African Americans and highlighted the coming together of several contrasting political figures. Speeches from the day, including the stirring closer from President Obama, highlighted the importance of the museum and former president George W. Bush summed it up during his moment on stage according to The Hill:
“A great nation does not hide its history,” Bush said. “It faces its flaws, and corrects them.”
Bush signed the bill authorizing the museum in 2003, following a long battle to approve the site throughout the ’70s and ’80s. It was indeed a moment that earned a sigh of relief from many, but it also carried something else for onlookers to grab to and obsess over according to CNN:
Over the past eight years, former President George W. Bush and First Lady Michelle Obama have been seen becoming increasingly chummy. At public events, the two can often be found sitting next to each other, sharing a laugh or lending a hand to hold.
Saturday’s ceremony was no exception. During the event, Obama reached over and grabbed Bush into a hug as their spouses clapped and looked on.
That’s right, Bush and Michelle Obama were great pals once again and Bush almost seemed to be America’s fun uncle — where Tim Kaine is America’s lame uncle — getting hugs, making jokes during his speech, and even interrupting President Obama for some help with a selfie.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) September 25, 2016
It was a moment that many described as cute and an example of how relationships in Washington transcend the political differences we see play out daily in the media. It also provides a respite from the pit of despair that is the 2016 election, giving journalists fodder for cutesy stories about friendship and giving internet jokers a chance to Photoshop the pair into numerous funny poses. Here’s one from Reddit that gives John Travolta a little love:
But not everybody was a fan of the moment. In fact, some were quite confused and bewildered by the reaction to the Bush/Obama hug. Had people forgotten the eight years the country spent under the Bush presidency? The one that spawned two wars and seemed to divide the nation if you can remember back that far? I can personally remember Alex Ross painting a version of Bush on the cover of The Village Voice, showing the president as a vampire sucking the life out of lady liberty. The New Republic has a theory that this sort of reaction is the result of younger voters not receiving a proper account of those Bush years, tying in with the current election:
It’s not that the abject failure of George W. Bush’s presidency has been forgotten, or that liberals somehow failed to mention how bad things were from 2001 to 2009. But the historic nature of the failure—the fact that historians place Bush at or near the top of their lists of worst presidents in U.S. history—perhaps hasn’t filtered down.
Here it’s useful to contrast the way Republicans scapegoated Jimmy Carter (who was not a great president, but more unlucky than genuinely incompetent or malevolent) to the way Democrats have treated Bush (among the worst presidents of all time).
No matter what you might believe or your point of view, many people online echoed the sentiments of Bush’s negative qualities being swept under the rug. A few examples:
The spirit of the events in D.C. on Saturday and the idea that it is possible to hold a complex relationship with those you don’t agree with clearly won out for many. Then again, maybe this is what Bush meant when he said history would judge him.
(Via The Hill / CNN / New Republic)