- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2001

Just when you thought Bill Clinton had trashed presidential precedent and honor as much as possible, he takes us by surprise again. Traditionally, when presidents are replaced by a member of the opposing political party, they rise above partisan banter, and make gestures of civility and comity toward their successor. For example, even amidst Mr. Clinton's most damaging and controversial scandal, his predecessor, former President Bush, always refused to publicly comment on the affair. Even former Presidents Reagan and Carter once bitter political rivals cast ideological differences aside. Once during Mr. Reagan's tenure, Mr. Carter complimented him on his eloquence, claiming he was finally able to understand his own defeat.

But Bill Clinton is no Jimmy Carter. Speaking in Chicago Tuesday night, Mr. Clinton took it upon himself to stir up election anxieties and join demagogues who have been questioning the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. He joined this destructive chorus, claiming that "the only way [Republicans] could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida." He even went so far as to claim that Gore Campaign Chairman Bill Daley "did a brilliant job in leading Vice President Gore to victory." Furthermore, White House Spokesman Jake Siewert later added that the president believes that the recount being conducted by several news organizations may, in fact, confirm Mr. Gore's victory.

Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise, given Mr. Clinton's unseemly behavior during the campaign, indeed during his presidency. Perhaps out of frustration over his irrelevance as the lame duck, he felt compelled to inject himself into the political fray. At one point, in a mocking and less than presidential tone, he feigned a Bush monologue: "I mean, how bad could I be? I've been governor of Texas; my daddy was president; I own a baseball team."

What is remarkable as well as admirable, by contrast, is the high road that Mr. Bush has taken by refusing to engage the president in this petty war of words. Instead, Mr. Bush and his team seem to be in a hurry to restore dignity to the White House, and they have done so by repeatedly showing a regard and deference toward Mr. Clinton. In responding to Mr. Clinton's recent comments on the Florida vote, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer merely hoped the president would continue the tradition "of presidents leaving office with respect for their successors." When pressed further on the matter, he even noted, "We have respect for President Clinton, and I'm not going to characterize his statements beyond that."

The new administration appears to be making good on its promise to bring a new tone to Washington. Presumably, the civility that the Bush team is showing Mr. Clinton is out of respect for the high office that Mr. Bush describes himself as honored to serve. Surely, it is not owed to the individual who has been occupying it.


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