- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The well-worn cliche is “time heals all wounds,” but in politics, the saying often ought to be “money heals all wounds.”

On Friday, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who spent years railing against each other, will appear together in Toronto for what is being billed a “conversation.”

No one will say how much each will take home, but estimates run as high as $150,000 apiece for the two-hour appearance. Just to be one of the 6,000 people inside the city’s convention center costs $250, with VIP tickets at $625 and the sold-out “emerald” section seating going for $2,500 (buyers in those front rows also get a photo with the two presidents).

The event will be only the second appearance by Mr. Bush since leaving office; his first was also in Canada, in Calgary. Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, is an old hand on the speaking tour: He did, after all, haul in $31 million in speaking fees between 2001 and 2005.

Friday’s event is being put on by the Power Within, which produces “full-day inspirational, motivational and entertaining events with the power to ignite your spirit!” its Web site says exuberantly. The Toronto-based company is affiliated with self-help guru Tony Robbins, “the nation’s foremost authority on the psychology of peak performance,” the site says.

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But the two baby boomers — born just six weeks apart in 1946 — suddenly are far more alike than different. They are members of not only the exclusive former-presidents club, but a subset within it — two-termers. Unlike former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, the two served eight years, living through the sensational highs and disastrous lows the office brings.

Although Mr. Bush centered his 2000 campaign on restoring “honor and dignity” to the Oval Office — a direct stab at Mr. Clinton, who had a sexual tryst there with an intern half his age — he tapped his predecessor for help later in his presidency, elevating him to the role of elder statesman.

“Presidents Bush and Clinton developed a good relationship over the years, and Bush called upon Clinton to help with some of our biggest crises — helping raise awareness and funds for the tsunami and then Hurricane Katrina victims,” said Dana Perino, White House press secretary from 2007 to Mr. Bush’s last day in office.

In January 2005, Mr. Bush named his father and Mr. Clinton to head up private fundraising efforts to help Asian and African nations devastated by the Christmas 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The two became fast friends, despite the fact that Mr. Clinton portrayed the elder Mr. Bush as out of touch during their presidential battle in 1992.

Mr. Bush the younger, who had been bitter about that election, actually had started to warm toward Mr. Clinton months earlier. In June 2004, he unveiled official portraits of Mr. Clinton and wife Hillary at the White House, delivering an homage to the man he once said had sullied the nation’s highest office, blaming him for everything from the flagging economy to the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man,” said Mr. Bush, calling his predecessor a man of “incredible energy and great personal appeal” with “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.”

“Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead, and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer,” Mr. Bush said. “Over eight years it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. He’s a man of enthusiasm and warmth, who could make a compelling case and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service.”

Mr. Clinton, standing beside the president, bit his lip from time to time during the moving comments, then returned the favor.

“The president, by his generous words to Hillary and me today, has proved once again that in the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right,” Mr. Clinton said.

The thaw between the two former presidents took off after Mr. Bush paired his father and Mr. Clinton on the humanitarian mission. After Mr. Clinton had heart surgery in March 2005, Mr. Bush joked at the Gridiron Club dinner that “when he woke up, he was surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea — and my dad.”

But the bond went deeper in private. “Bush would call Clinton from time to time — especially on the days when you might not expect it — for example, when Clinton was being labeled a racist by some during the bitter primary fight last year, Bush defended him and also placed a call to let him know he was a friend,” Mrs. Perino said.

Still, there always has been a political chasm between the two. During the contentious contest last year for Democratic presidential nomination, which former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was seeking, Mr. Clinton said that in the Bush administration “cronyism is more important than competence” as he slammed federal response for Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bush, meanwhile, sought to portray Republican Sen. John McCain as far more experienced than Mrs. Clinton.

Yet the most recent phase of the two men’s relationship has been marked by civility and respect. “It’s relationships like those that help us realize how great our country can be — one based on fundamental principles of freedom, ability to have frank exchange of views, and collectively working together to help make a positive difference,” Mrs. Perino said.

In Friday’s event, Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton will join in a 90-minute discussion moderated by Frank McKenna, a former Canadian ambassador to the United States, followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session. The event is closed to the media.

Just a day before the event, tickets were still available. In fact, buyers who snapped up tickets early with hopes of reselling them for a profit were beginning to look panicky on Craigslist.

One seller sought to hype the “conversation” as a monumental clash.

“2 Presidents in 1 Room for 2 hours. 1 Democrat, 1 Republican. 1 the most loved, 1 the most hated. 1 the smartest, 1 the dumbest. Join the world media and journalists and observe this event. Laugh at all the protesters outside who wish they were in the same room. Time is running out,” the lister wrote.


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