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Bush gives Clinton a taste of civility

The president plays cordial host at a ceremony for the Clintons' White House portraits. He even plugs that new book.

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer
Published June 15, 2004

[AP photo]
With a bow, former President Bill Clinton joins his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a White House unveiling of their portraits Monday.

WASHINGTON - As the alumni from the Clinton administration gathered at the White House on Monday, they whispered about the menu. Would they get shrimp?

The Bush administration invited more than 100 Clintonites to see the unveiling of the official portraits of President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Afterward, the group was treated to lunch in the State Dining Room.

At the White House, like so many places, food tells you where you stand in the pecking order. Some people only merit cold cuts and a bowl of punch. Others get a full buffet with shrimp. The Clintonites didn't get shrimp, but they did get an elegant buffet that included salmon and crab cakes.

"Many of us noted that the lunch offering was quite lavish and quite generous," said Thurgood Marshall Jr., a former Clinton aide.

The event - and the cuisine - symbolized a momentary thaw in the frigid relations between the Bush White House and the Democrats.

At the unveiling ceremony, Bush offered a glowing tribute to Clinton, who defeated President Bush's father to win the White House in 1992. Clinton was also the man to whom the younger Bush had referred when he promised to "to restore honor and dignity" to the presidency.

But all that was a distant memory Monday.

Instead, Bush said the Democrat "showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president."

Bush praised Clinton's determination and optimism, noting that he had run the presidential campaign for liberal George McGovern in the conservative state of Texas. Bush joked that, "You've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas."

Bush even gave a plug for Clinton's memoirs, which will be published next week.

"I could tell you more of the story," Bush said with a smile, "but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America."

Clinton, stepping to the familiar White House podium after the portraits were unveiled, recalled how editorial cartoonists had depicted him over his career. When he was a young governor in Arkansas, he was shown in a baby carriage, then riding a tricycle and then a bicycle.

When he became president, the cartoonist "put Hillary and me in a pickup truck with a huntin' dog."

Clinton made it clear how unusual it was to have a cease-fire in the partisan battles.

He said, "I hope that I will live long enough to see American politics return to vigorous debates, where we argue who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad."

[Last modified June 15, 2004, 06:45:32]

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