Bushes, Clintons make strange bedfellows

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President Bush, by pairing his father with former President Bill Clinton to raise disaster-relief funds, has managed to turn harsh criticism from his Democratic predecessor into glowing praise.

In return, Mr. Clinton’s image is being burnished at a time when his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is trying to demonstrate that the former first couple gets along well with Republicans and deserves a new stint in the White House.

“It is very smart politics,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “It is mutually beneficial for Hillary Clinton and Bush 43, because it is essentially detente.”

In other words, while Mr. Clinton and former President George Bush raise money for tsunami victims, their political successors — Mrs. Clinton and the younger Mr. Bush, the 43rd president — reap rewards of another sort.

“Cooperation between them elevates Hillary Clinton and provides an opportunity to look presidential,” Miss Marsh said. “It also provides Bush the opportunity to work on his legacy in these remaining years without being criticized by such a high-profile senator.”

Republican strategist Rich Galen said the warm relationship between Mr. Clinton and his predecessor could pay “huge potential dividends” to their political successors.

“It’s very difficult for Democrats to exhibit hatred — as some of them do — toward George W., when they see President Clinton there saying good things about him,” Mr. Galen said.

It also helps Mrs. Clinton, who recently has been tacking to the right to shed her image as a strident liberal. Last week, for example, Mrs. Clinton appeared at a press conference with conservative Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas to rail against the pervasive influence of electronic media on children.

“This fits in with standing side by side with, of all people, Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback — I mean, who would have thought that?” Mr. Galen said of the Bush-Clinton detente. “So I think this is a conscious effort.”

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Mr. Clinton accused the younger Mr. Bush of pushing the country “too far to the right.” He also said that after September 11, Mr. Bush “divided the world.”

“Bush domestic policy is to cut taxes, no matter what it does to the deficit and to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of people who share his values and economic interests,” Mr. Clinton said. “Abroad, his policy is to act alone whenever we can and cooperate whenever we have to.”

But last week, after returning from a trip to Asia with the elder Mr. Bush to raise money for tsunami victims, Mr. Clinton heaped praise upon his successor’s efforts to democratize the Middle East.

“The Iraqi elections went better than anyone could have imagined,” said Mr. Clinton, contradicting many in his own party. “I don’t think we ought to pressure the president to give a timetable for withdrawal of American forces. We’ve got to try to make this work.”

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