It is heartwarming to see the obvious fondness Michelle Obama and George W. Bush have for each other.
Perhaps it is simply because two people who seem to have nothing in common managed to find a thread of commonality. That’s rare during these contentious times.
Some might say we should not make too much of the simple interactions between two individuals. Indeed, if it were not a former president seen on video passing a piece of candy to a former first lady at a funeral, it would have gone unmentioned.
But in this case, it is a Republican and a Democrat. It is an African-American woman and a white man, who generically speaking are opposite bookends within our country’s social hierarchy. It is a man who grew up privileged and a woman who worked her way up from humble beginnings.
They are not just different personalities. By most standards used to judge compatibility, they are strikingly opposites.
It wasn’t that long ago that many of us despised Bush. Now, our hearts appear to have warmed toward the president who led us into the Iraq War.
Since leaving the White House in 2009, the former president has wedged his way into our hearts, a feat that seemed impossible not so long ago, when we were in the grips of war. But time has a way of healing old wounds, or at least masking the pain.
Bush’s friendship with Obama, a confident, smart and elegant woman whose integrity is impeccable, gives him credence. Around her, he is humble, playful and comfortable. She allows him to be the lighthearted person he is, without judgment.
Perhaps her acceptance of him has allowed us to be more forgiving of him.
It is harder to figure out exactly what Obama receives from him. But it is clear that, at the very least, he makes her smile.
Often, the two end up seated next to each other at public events, and something always occurs between them to remind us that deep down, people are just people, no matter how different they may seem on the surface.
That was evident Saturday at Sen. John McCain’s funeral. In a video that went viral on social media, Bush is seen passing what looks to be a piece of candy to Obama.
Obama mouthed the words “thank you” as Bush glanced her way. The two never looked directly at each other, which seemed to make the moment even more poignant. Laura Bush and Barack Obama, seated on the other side of their spouses, watched the exchange and smiled in approval.
George Bush has said that he and Michelle Obama took to each other initially because he needles her and she likes his lighthearted style.
“She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like,” Bush told People magazine last year.
The reasons behind their fondness for each other might be that simple. But the symbolism is not.
The exchange at McCain’s funeral was the latest in a series of special moments between the two. They found something to laugh about during the 50-year commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala.
In Dallas, at a memorial service honoring five slain police officers — an event that threatened to further inflame tensions between law enforcement officials and minority communities — they didn’t just hold hands while singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They swung their hands harmoniously to the music.
Upon her arrival at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, the then-first lady greeted the former president as if they were best buddies. She reached out and hugged his shoulders and he leaned in and rested his head against hers.
Each of these moments occurred during significant events in our nation.
Selma was a major battleground of the civil rights movement. Michelle Obama’s friendliness toward Bush on the national stage signaled that maybe it was time to move on, despite his administration’s opposition to affirmative action and his disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina.
In Dallas, their camaraderie came as calls were being made for unity in the aftermath of violence. Two black men had been killed by police, in Louisiana and Minnesota. And in Dallas, a gunman angry over police shootings set out to kill officers. It was a volatile time, and the simple swaying of hands by Obama and Bush sent a message that hostility does not have to be a consequence of our differences.
McCain’s funeral was all about unity. It was about bringing together people of different political leanings. It was about bridging between racial differences. It was about letting go of the petty things that keep us from reaching out to each other.
The simple act of a former president passing along a piece of candy to a former first lady encompassed all of that.