On Tuesday, conservative news outlets in the United States decided that the best way to commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela, and to report on the memorial services in his honor, was to manufacture a controversy about an AFP photo of President Barack Obama shooting a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. According to Fox News, the “international incident” was so bad that, “The tsk-tisk-ing could be heard across continents.”
Liberal news outlets countered with a photograph from former President George W. Bush’s Instagram feed, taken at the same memorial, in which he’s seen posing with pop star Bono.
Two things were lost amid the nonsensical partisan wrangling. First, the furor shamefully overshadowed the memorial service itself, and the heartfelt messages that were delivered by Mandela’s family and colleagues. Second, such outcries overlook the close quarters in which our Democratic and Republican politicians actually live and work.
Candid images from White House photographer Pete Souza tell another story.
Looking at the individual AFP and Instagram shots, you would have no idea that Obama and Bush traveled to South Africa together on Air Force One.
You would miss the fact that they and their wives dined together on the plane ...
... or that Bush dazzled Michelle Obama and a smiling Hillary Clinton with photos of his recent paintings.
You wouldn't see that Obama managed to sneak in his own photo op with Bono ...
... or that the Bushes and Clintons spent the day together at FNB Stadium.
It’s almost as if photographers go out of their way to present isolated images of political figures ...
... when in reality, politicians spend their days surrounded by people ...
... and by political adversaries and allies alike.
Perhaps, instead of giving in to the frantic us-or-them discourse proffered by the media (Funeral selfies! Handshakes! Ted Cruz!), it's time that we acknowledge that conservative and liberal politicians spend more time together, and have more in common with one another, than we’d like to believe.