Bush, Clinton picture of amity
Ken Herman | Washington | June 14
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution) The Hatfields and McCoys of American politics got together for a White House lunch and ceremony on Monday.
WaPo calls it The Picture of Bipartisan Camaraderie
Alas, not all was as peachy as Mr. Herman and Mike Allen of WaPo might lead us to belive. The New York Times headline: As Clinton Is Honored, a Brief Break From Politics. Very Brief.
The Times article is the best, so I’ll use it as the body. However, I wonder why Sanger chose not to use any Bush camp quotes? Meanwhile, AJC just had the best opening line.
June 15, 2004
As Clinton Is Honored, a Brief Break From Politics. Very Brief.
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, June 14 – For a moment in the White House on Monday morning, it seemed like a political mirage: President Bush and Bill Clinton, joking as they walked together into the East Room, then spending the next 20 minutes effusively praising each other.
But the even stranger sight was the audience, the men and women who make up Senator John Kerry’s brain trust, almost all of them veterans of the Clinton era who have not set foot in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for three years, four months and 24 days, vigorously applauding the sitting president they are desperately trying to ride out of town.
Peace finally broke out this morning – well, a truce that ended after lunch – between two administrations that make no secret of how viscerally they dislike each other. The brief lull in the street fighting permitted the unveiling of the official White House portraits of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton – which will now, by tradition, occupy the places where portraits of Mr. Bush’s father and mother now hang.
Graciousness oozed from all sides. Mr. Bush praised his predecessor – upon whom he bestowed the honorific nickname “42″ to mark an eight-year interregnum between Bushes – as a man “with far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit the Americans like in a president.” He offered up an advance plug for Mr. Clinton’s memoir.
His face reddening, his eye tearing a bit, Mr. Clinton returned the compliment, saying: “I had mixed feelings coming here today, and they were only confirmed by all those kind and generous things you’ve said. Made me feel like I was a pickle stepping into history.”
For the first time in years, he stood and talked at a lectern adorned by a presidential seal.
Forgotten, for the moment, was Mr. Bush’s campaign pledge “to restore honor and dignity” to the Oval Office. And forgotten was the unwritten rule inside the Bush White House that Mr. Clinton’s presidency would rarely be mentioned by name – except to blame it for leaving Mr. Bush with an approaching recession, for contributing to violence in the Middle East, or for letting North Korea keep its plutonium.
Until Monday, the former aides to Mr. Clinton – who filled the East Room and then wandered, nostalgically, through the ceremonial rooms for a lunch given by Laura Bush – have been no more charitable. Day by day, with ever-increasing volume, they issue broadsides about how Mr. Bush has torn apart perfectly solid alliances, turned surpluses into huge deficits and blamed everyone but himself for mistakes in Iraq.
(The Clinton alumni are also circulating a joke about how many Bush administration officials it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is seven, and the joke is too long for this space, but suffice it to say that one of the officials is in charge of blaming Mr. Clinton for the blown bulb, and another is in charge of invading a country that is believed to be stockpiling replacement bulbs.)
But that was all gone this morning. “I thought everybody was going to break out in ‘Kumbaya,’ ” said Rahm Emanuel, known a few years ago as among the most partisan of Mr. Clinton’s aides.
Mr. Emanuel said he was touched by Mr. Bush’s comments. But by this afternoon, the good feelings about Mr. Bush had worn off sufficiently for Mr. Emanuel, now a congressman from Chicago, to point out how an underestimate of terrorist attacks around the world in a recent Bush administration report fit a pattern of “curious mistakes” involving other unpleasant statistics.
The Bush administration said it believed this was the first time that Mr. Clinton had returned to the White House since he left on Jan. 20, 2001, having just issued a slew of midnight pardons over the advice of his own top aides. His wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, has been back many times, for official events. And on Monday Mr. Bush had kind words for her, as well.
“Listen, New York politics is serious business,” Mr. Bush said to laughs. “It’s rough business. It takes an extraordinary person to campaign and win the United States Senate. She has proven herself more equal than – to the challenge.”
Mrs. Clinton also proved herself eager to have posterity remember her as she was in the White House: dressed in a pants suit, all business. For some in the crowd, it was a welcome return to once-familiar ground. Former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen was there, using a wheelchair because he has had several strokes, but smiling at the Texas jokes. So were two of Mr. Kerry’s top foreign policy advisers: the former defense secretary William Perry and the former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger. And so was Chelsea Clinton, who smiled when Mr. Bush said, “The fact that you survived your teenage years in the White House speaks to the fact you had a great mom and dad.”
But a few in the audience seemed to be watching Mr. Bush with the seasoned eye of a batter studying videotapes of a particularly skilled pitcher. Among them was Mary Beth Cahill, Mr. Kerry’s campaign manager, who was an assistant to the president under Mr. Clinton.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him in the White House,” Ms. Cahill told reporters later. “I thought that President and Mrs. Bush were extremely gracious to the Clintons. This was a historic moment; it was a nonpartisan moment.”
She might have said briefly nonpartisan: By the time reporters returned to their offices, Ms. Cahill had circulated a letter mocking plans by Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, for a media blitz against Mr. Kerry, and citing poll numbers showing the president behind the challenger.
Mr. Bush’s graciousness today was hardly surprising. He remembers well, his aides say, Mr. Clinton’s equally charitable comments about 41, the senior President Bush, when his portrait was unveiled nearly a decade ago. Ms. Cahill recalled that ceremony as a “similarly nonpartisan, historical moment” and said “and everyone rose to the occasion.”
For those looking for even the subtlest sign of partisan bite in the encounter, there were a few tiny morsels to chew. Mr. Bush’s praise of his predecessor included references to Mr. Clinton’s “hard work and drive and determination and optimism.”
“I mean, after all,” he said with a grin, “you got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas.”
Mr. Clinton was only slightly more indirect. Talking about his favorite portraits in the White House, he finally settled on one of another president, from a century ago, who knew a thing or two about military pre-emption.
“If you look at that picture, Theodore Roosevelt, who was known as our most macho, bully, self-confident president,” Mr. Clinton said, “you look at that picture and you see, here’s a human being who’s scared to death and not sure it’s going to come out all right.”
Then, with a cryptic comment that left all sides confused about whether he was making comparisons to a modern president immersed in a messy foreign occupation, he added: “And he does the right thing anyway. That’s what I saw in that picture.”
But in the end, Mr. Clinton returned to the theme that dominated the post-Monica Lewinsky phase of his presidency: what he used to call the politics of personal destruction.
“I hope that I will live long enough,” he told Mr. Bush and the former Clinton aides, “to see American politics return to vigorous debates where we argue who’s right and wrong, not who’s good and bad.”