- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

The rain and the snow that fell on George W. Bush's inaugural washed away leaves in the gutters, trash at the curbs and an old way of doing things.

Between the time Bill Clinton left the Oval Office and George W. took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, workmen carried away the deep blue oval carpet and put down a more elegant ivory and sage rug that graced the office when Ronald Reagan was president.

Sofas in a mellower cream color gave the room a lighter touch of airiness, if not innocence. Two new paintings depict a boy fishing and a man on horseback. The bronze "Bronco Buster" by Fredric Remington stays.

More than the decor is different. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush will not move into offices in the West Wing. She believes in separating His and Hers. (Maybe she, like my Aunt Minnie, married for love but not for lunch.)

Washington is reveling in a new sensibility of freshness. Hillary and Bill arrived in Washington in a storm of jaded rumors of tawdriness. We were confronted with their past on "60 Minutes" and soon after they arrived we had to get accustomed to hourly bulletins on who had slept where, when, and who with. It was hard to give Hillary that "zone of privacy" she asked for. Reporters, as presidents before the Clintons understood well, are like termites; when they get in the woodwork they stay there, boring from within and gnawing away. But the wood has to be vulnerable to get their attention.

The Clintons were the first boomer First Couple and they brought with them a new set of rules to break. If Elvis shocked our grandparents when he sang "You ain't nothin' but a houn' dog," Bill Clinton came of age when it was commonplace (as well as common) to run with the pack of sexual revolutionaries.

George and Laura grew up at the same time as the Clintons and are, technically, boomers. But to paraphrase W.'s inaugural address, it's as though the Clintons and the Bushes shared a continent but not a country. The difference is as wide as the difference between traditional country and hard rock. When the Bushes talk about W's wild days on booze, they sound like they're singing the lyrics of something from Nashville. "It's Jim Beam or me," Laura told him. (Nothing here to inhale.)

Something real is what has been missing at the White House. George and Laura looked at home at the prayer service at the National Cathedral. It didn't look like a photo-op. There was no oversized Bible in George W.'s hand, and they seemed to know the words to the hymns. We didn't get the feeling they'll leave Washington with $190,000 worth of china, silver and flatware in gifts accumulated while in the White House, or ask friends to help them furnish the new house at the ranch. The Bushes, of course, have the taste that comes from growing up with a sense of place in a family accustomed to a life lived in public. Tackiness and vulgarity come naturally to folks not to the manner (or manor) born.

Bill Clinton invoked his felicitously named hometown called Hope when it was convenient, but there was no home in Arkansas to fly back to when his term was over. For the Bushes, Texas is more than a place to leave, it's a place to return to.

"In a way, Laura and I will never quite settle in Washington because, while the honor is great, the work is temporary," he told fellow Texans in his farewell to Midland. Bill Clinton, for whom every "farewell" is followed by a "hail," made a point of saying in his farewell to the White House that "I'm still here."

George W. is mocked for being inarticulate, for speaking hesitantly and not always getting the pronunciation right. But he was clear enough in telling his staff that he expects them to hew to a strict code of legal and ethical conduct and to avoid "even the appearance of problems." On his final day in office Bill Clinton tried to spin the reasons why the state of Arkansas took away his law license for five years and imposed a $25,000 fine for "testifying falsely." That's lawyer talk for "lying."

Decency, conscience, civility and citizenship were words we heard a lot on inauguration weekend, the private and public virtues George W. vows to restore to practice in Washington. He reminded us that an angel directs the storm in the whirlwind of Washington, and with a lot of rough weather in the forecast he'll need an army of angels. But Bob Dylan, the boomer icon, was right: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."


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