What You Told Me You Saw In This Photo From Barbara Bush’s Funeral
A week ago, I asked you to look at this photo, and tell me what you saw. Your responses have been overwhelming and amazing.
Clearly, this photo of four former presidents, four former First Ladies and the current First Lady resonated around the world, well beyond the usual picture of dignitaries at a funeral.
It really had an impact on me, too, and I’m so pleased that so many people read my essay, shared it and took the time to comment on it.
Here are some of the things you told me.
“Here’s what I see: Decency,” wrote Kim Clarke.
Bill Landau replied, “I also see decency, and respect — for Barbara Bush and for one another — and with the Clintons and the younger Bushes, what appears to be genuine affection. Most of all, I see what is best described in Yiddish — menschlikeit — the quality of true humanity.”
And Tim Wiersma said, “I see a Republican with his arm around a Democrat. If only…”
What those comments say to me is that you want civility to return. You want bi-partisanship to come back to Washington. And you want grown ups to act like grown ups, and find ways to work together.
You thought the photo looked natural — as natural as a photo can look with nine people who are using to having their every move photographed.
To be sure, I got other responses, in email, on Twitter and here at Medium taking me to task for failing to mention different groups.
I received a note from someone upset because I did not point out that George H.W. Bush was in a wheelchair. “…You either chose to ignore it or it was invisible to you.”
Disability, the reader wrote, affects 19 percent of the U.S. population, “and by family ties and association, almost everyone in the country.”
I polled my Facebook friends about this, and received an overwhelming response: no, it wasn’t necessary to note that President Bush was in a wheel chair. It’s obvious to the viewer.
As it turned out, President Bush was hospitalized the day after the photo with a blood infection. He’s since been responding to treatment, and has shared his thanks for those who coordinated funeral security.
I was also criticized because I didn’t mention the lack of Native Americans in the photograph, and also because I incorrectly identified President Obama as having roots in South Asia.
As it turns out, Indonesia is considered part of Southeast Asia. Thanks, I won’t repeat my mistake.
There were, as happens these days, much nastier responses to the photo, which you can read in the comments beneath my original essay.
And SK Lawrence asked, “How about just regular people (they bleed just like you and me) posing for a photograph???”
Well, that’s not really the point. These are not regular people. They have been in positions of extraordinary power and responsibility. They are figures in history.
And, they gathered to honor someone who was a figure in history, in a time that is now seeming farther and farther away, given the contentious era in which we live.
I’m writing this on the morning after the White House Correspondents Association dinner, aka the Nerdprom.
In the years when I attended the dinner, it was an opportunity to hear the president make fun of the press, a chance to encounter Washington notables and celebrities, enjoy corporate-sponsored cocktail parties and brunches, and generally have a good time.
But over the past decade, and especially while President Obama was in office, the dinner became more Hollywood on the Potomac.
Where cabinet secretaries and political figures were once sought-after as dinner invitees, celebrities seemed to overshadow the Washington aspect, pushing the journalists out of the spotlight.
Moreover, the dinner actually may have inadvertently helped make history.
It’s said that President Obama’s teasing of Donald Trump at the 2011 dinner infuriated him, and may have solidified his determination to run for president.
The main reasoning for continuing the dinner has always been that it raises money for scholarships, and it also is an opportunity to honor White House reporters’ work.
It’s also seen as a night when the media and the people they cover, including POTUS, can mix in the same room under less-contentious circumstances.
But President Trump hasn’t attended the past two dinners, which eliminates one of the primary purposes for going.
This year, he was represented by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She came in for merciless teasing by comedian Michelle Wolf, who is known for her bawdy humor.
Numerous people came to Sanders’ defense, and the reaction gives the impression that in these times, the WHCA dinner is simply adding to the fractured atmosphere in Washington.
You can argue that it’s not up to the press to change the tone, especially in such a hostile White House.
And of course, our primary mission is to report and analyze. Speak truth to power, although preferably about policy matters, not eye shadow.
But if you, our audience, tell us that you would like civility to return, then we owe it to you to be civil ourselves.
No one can wave a magic wand and bring back bi-partisanship. Discord in Washington has been 25 years in the making.
It may take another generation, or at least several elections, before our leaders see the wisdom of collaboration rather than conflict.
However, we each can play a role in making sure that we treat others with respect. That we listen, instead of shout.
And, stand (or sit) next to each other in a cordial way, even if our political views are vastly different, when a common cause brings us together.
Just like the men and women in this photo, which has touched us all in so many ways.
Micheline Maynard is an author and journalist who tweets @mickimaynard