- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Barack Obama paid his first visit as president-elect to the White House on Monday to meet with President Bush, and despite being political polar opposites, the two men have a lot in common — from their habits to their dark suits and blue ties.

As the two most recent inductees into the exclusive commander-in-chief club, the two men — both sports fanatics, famously disciplined and physically fit — will have to embrace their similarities and become friendly, if not friends, to make this transition as smooth as possible.

The men wore wide smiles and seemed to be getting along Monday — the president held the Oval Office door open for his successor, who at least once put his hand on Mr. Bush’s back. They also sported similar pins on their left lapels. And Mr. Obama stayed at least 30 minutes longer than his transition team had scheduled as his top aides greeted White House staffers.

• Click here to view a photo gallery of Obama’s first visit to the White House.

“It’s no doubt that George Bush and Barack Obama discovered in each other that they are authentic, likable and want what’s best for the country,” said Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton who attended Yale University with Mr. Bush. Mr. Davis’ columns appear in The Washington Times.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the meeting was relaxed and friendly despite the partisan jabs that Mr. Obama took at the president on the campaign trail and vastly different ideologies. She noted that Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush “are now going to be in a very small club.”

They are men who are sticklers for routine.

Mr. Bush, famously in bed by 10 p.m., is always on time and keeps to his habits.

Mr. Obama as president-elect has strayed little from his regular traditions, hitting the gym each day.

He gets his hair cut at the Hyde Park Hair Salon & Barber Shop in Chicago, and snacks on energy bars, nuts and a single flavor of Honest Tea. Photos of him on the weekends are eerily similar: black baseball cap, sunglasses, track pants and a T-shirt. When he hits the gym — sometimes more than once a day — he has a newspaper tucked under his arm and earbuds in his ear.

Mr. Obama rarely drinks alcohol and avoids caffeine. Mr. Bush has been a teetotaler for decades; he has said he abused alcohol.

Both men are avid exercisers and have healthy resting heart rates, though Mr. Bush’s at 45 beats per minute is that of a world-class athlete while Mr. Obama’s at 60 beats per minute is similar to a regular long-distance runner.

In the past year, both have done little dances in front of television cameras — Mr. Bush in the Rose Garden before endorsing Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, and the Democrat on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” — twice.

Their top aides said Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush are able to tune out the political chatter, preferring to flip the channel to ESPN rather than hear pundits sound off with their opinions.

Their style of governing may even be similar, though ideologically opposite.

Team Obama is fiercely loyal to the Illinois Democrat and has developed a reputation for message and image control while limiting access to the candidate.

The Obama victory was largely a result of the massive and structured get-out-the-vote ground game his team put into place, a similar effort to what helped Mr. Bush win re-election in 2004. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said that before the election, the team had studied the Bush model, which it found “impressive.”

Obama press aides have been known to nitpick on headlines or word choices in stories. The Bush press shop, even in its waning days, has been known to push back against unflattering stories in a similar manner.

John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Mr. Obama has operated his campaign organization in much the same way that Mr. Bush managed his campaign and has run his administration.

“Obama’s been lauded for his no drama campaign and the smooth working of everything. And the Bush administration early on was this extremely loyal and well-functioning operation. Reporters didn’t get a lot of leaks,” Mr. Fortier said.

But he also said that the emphasis on loyalty in the Bush administration led to the stasis that set in until the 2006 midterm defeats prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a shake-up inside the White House, with the elevation of Joshua B. Bolten to chief of staff.

Mr. Fortier said that Mr. Obama successfully assembled a “very disciplined winning machine” but will have to prove that he can retool in the face of adversity.

Mr. Davis also said that the men leading the transition Mr. Bolten as White House chief of staff and John Podesta, the former Clinton chief of staff who is overseeing the Obama operation — are a perfect fit. Those men met Monday at the White House separately from the Obama-Bush meeting.

“You couldn’t want it any better,” Mr. Davis said. “They’re both pros. They’re both extremely professional and civil. There’s no guile or sharp elbows from either of them.”

Mr. Obama told his strategist Robert Gibbs after the Monday meeting that he found Mr. Bush to be “extremely gracious.”

When a reporter reminded Mr. Gibbs of Mr. Obama’s constant attacks on the president’s “failed policies,” the aide smiled and said, “I don’t think he tried that line out again to see how it would work.”

“Obviously, there’s a time for politics. The election’s over,” Mr. Gibbs said. “Now it’s a time for governing.”

Over the course of the campaign, Mr. Obama kept his distance from the press, revealing little of his innermost feelings on the trail over the past two years.

But when he chose to interact with the reporters on the plane, he showed many of the same characteristics that the 43rd president displayed. Mr. Obama turned the conversation quickly to sports, focusing his attention on the male reporters, although he once marveled at one scribe’s diamond engagement ring.

Mr. Obama often buys sweets and treats for the press, from pies to ice cream, while Mr. Bush has purchased ribs for and assigned nicknames to reporters traveling with him.

Mr. Obama said he found the president affable during their first meeting in the White House nearly four years ago, and caught himself putting his arm around Mr. Bush as they talked, to the chagrin of many of his Democratic colleagues.

Mr. Obama wrote in his book “The Audacity of Hope” that the president offered him some advice as a freshman senator, telling him, “You’ve got a bright future.”

They also laughed that they both in their political careers debated Republican Alan Keyes — Mr. Obama in his 2004 Senate race and Mr. Bush in the 2000 presidential primary contest.

Despite their similarities, the men have vastly different popularity ratings with the American public.

One indicator of the differing opinions was apparent Monday outside the metal fence bordering the White House’s North Lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue. Many were there celebrating Mr. Obama and hoping for a glimpse of their newly elected president while others were there to protest, holding large banners reading: “Arrest Bush for war crimes.”

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