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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2001 / 13 Shevat, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Use of office


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE BUSHES ended their second presidential week by inviting the Kennedys to dinner. The evening's big event was a screening of "Thirteen Days," the Kevin Costner movie about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Call me traditional, but this is how a first family should use this country's most cherished house.

George W. Bush needs allies in the Senate. At 68, Ted Kennedy is the most potent force on the Democratic side of that body. Indeed, he may be the greatest senator of recent American history.

But, like any of us, the senior senator from Massachusetts also appreciates respect, not just for his current position in Congress but for his family's historic gift to the country. I cannot think of a better way for this younger Bush to begin his service than to honor that of the two older Kennedy brothers -- John and Robert -- who steered the country from nuclear war.

This is American government at its best. A Republican president pays tribute to a Democratic family and, in so doing, builds goodwill for his legislative agenda. A conservative with one set of values and loyalties exploits the grandeur of the White House to forge a workaday bond with the country's most prominent liberal.

If the country ends up with a better education system, a resilient economy, a tauter "safety net" of social programs, this evening of Bushes and Kennedys -- Ted, Vicky, Kathleen, Patrick and all the rest -- will be viewed as an emblematic starting point.

If not, it will show that George W. Bush, like his father, appreciates, at the very least, the honor and use of the office. He knows that the aura of the presidency is at its brightest when its occupant can be seen tending its flame.

This is an American reality that the departing President Clinton neither grasped nor wanted to. Clinton's tendency to "de-mystify" the office was his one reliable success through an otherwise uneven eight years. He wanted to rule his party, run the country's domestic and foreign policy, command the troops.

The lone presidential hat Bill Clinton refused to wear was Head of State. A man who loved to lead the government ducked and dodged from personifying the country.

His refusal to accept these responsibilities of state remained stubborn to the end. He treated the White House as a fund-raising casino, filling it with status-seekers eager to spend money for his company, more money to stay through the night. Its historic rooms were converted into a caterer's hall for the feeding of influence-seekers, foreign and domestic. The Lincoln Bedroom became a Motel Six for six-figure contributors.

Clinton's use of the presidential pardon was another dereliction of his duties of state. A president, like monarchs of old, falls heir to the crown prerogative of clemency. This president, Bill Clinton, will be remembered as the guy who pardoned a billionaire fugitive who, in the words of his lawyer, the great Edward Bennett Williams, "spat" on his flag and country to escape justice. The thought that money was involved in this exchange of favors between the Riches and the Clintons is impossible to resist.

I would like to hope that the new president, despite differences of policy and culture, at least understands his office.

I remember sitting at dinner back in the inaugural weeks of 1993 alongside a young Clinton aide who laughed aloud at something said by the man her guy had defeated, the senior George Bush.

"He was asked what was the greatest thing about being president, " she hooted with loud mockery, "and he said 'The honor of it.'"

She thought the old man's sentiment was beyond contempt. I believe that one of the first good things the younger Bush can do is bring it back.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

01/30/01: Cramming for the Exam
01/24/01: George W. Corleone?
01/16/01: War and Atonement
01/09/01: A pair of Boy Scouts
01/04/01: Sen. Moynihan's career: 1976-2000
12/27/00: Powell a symbol of opportunity
12/20/00: Armistice
12/01/00: Forget Gush/Bore, Lieberman and Cheney are ones to watch
11/21/00: Dead men voting
11/15/00: U.S. politcal geography: One nation, divisible
11/07/00: A real electoral horror show
10/31/00: The big lie: Every vote counts
10/17/00: Play White House admissions officer
10/11/00: Scandalous lack of awe for the office
10/03/00: Bush-Gore and the ghosts of Kennedy-Nixon
09/26/00: Candidates' night and day sides
09/19/00: Hillary goes legit
09/12/00: AlGore's silent partner
08/23/00: Truth and beauty in Bubba's farewell
08/16/00: The nation's prom king
08/07/00: The good soldier
08/02/00: Welcome to Philadelphia --- we had the first...
07/31/00: Bush-Cheney ticket: A constitutional problem
07/26/00: If Bush is an IPO, Gore is a store
07/24/00: Will being 'better' sink Hillary?
07/19/00: Pre-convention calm?
07/17/00: AlGore is executing a double dose of imitation 07/10/00: Mexicans elect a Bush Republican
07/10/00:Another kind of McCarthyism
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06/29/00: No echoes in this presidential choice
06/26/00: Death joins the debate
06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
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06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
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04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
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04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
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02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
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02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
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01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
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01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
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12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
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11/23/99: After the fall
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08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
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