One of the odd but endearing things about American politics are those tableaus where the combatants periodically step out of the ring and acknowldge that it's at least partially a big, fat show. Can you picture Hamid Karzai unveiling a portrait of Mullah Omar?
- 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."
....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.