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Jewish World Review June 18, 2004/ 29 Sivan 5764

Kathleen Parker

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Politics unveiled | It's probably just a rumor that Sen. John F. Kerry placed a late-night call Monday to John Berendt for the phone number of that nice voodoo lady down in Savannah.

You remember Berendt, author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," the book about the oogedy-boogedy South with the usual cast of eccentric characters, including the magic Negro, Minerva, who warned of "bad juju" and said: "To understand the living, you got to commune with the dead."

Again, probably rumor, but not impossible to consider if you were John F. Kerry watching recent reality-challenging events, especially Monday's love-in between Bill Clinton and George Bush during the former president's and his wife's portrait unveilings. All that was missing from this televised group hug were the love beads and bong.

There they all were in the East Room - Presidents Bush and Clinton and First Ladies Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush. Though the wives were more reserved, the presidents hurled compliments at each and seemed dangerously close to exchanging jewelry.

If this made-for-TV moment wasn't a revision of history, it was at least a revision of reality. Just four years ago, Bush promised to "restore honor and dignity" to the White House, clearly referring to Clinton's little study off the Oval Office, where the former president kept his cigars and the present occupant keeps Saddam Hussein's pistol.

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Today, Bush sees Clinton in a new light:

"The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man," said Bush, describing his predecessor as 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."

Indeed. Clinton, biting his lip but miraculously remaining dry-eyed, said Bush's remarks "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."

Back on Planet Earth, John Kerry must have been thinking, who are these people? What about me?

The unveiling of former presidents' portraits by the current White House tenant is a ritual of protocol as well as a genial exorcism of bygones. Clinton hosted President George H.W. Bush for his portrait ceremony, and the next president will host George W. Bush. Even so, the degree of political animus these days - particularly between the Bush and Clinton camps - made Monday's skit a surreal reminder that politics isn't so much a debate as an accommodation to the moment.

Kerry thinking: Here's chicken-hawk, bush-burning, Jesus-jiving, WMD-lying, carrier-swaggering G. Dubya Bush cozying up to draft-dodging, sax-puffing, intern-mongering, lip-biting, Elvis-channeling, non-inhaling Bill, and the media act like I don't exist!

Je suis Jean Francois Kerry, the only war hero in the bunch. Decorated with three, count them, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Those two didn't even go to Vietnam, and I not only went, I documented myself with my personal movie camera. I can sail, cycle, ski, roller-blade, quote T.S. Eliot without crib notes, speak in first-person oracular without superfluous syllables, and I'm Tall!

Hey, Dan, over here!

Alas, Dan is busy. As are the folks at "60 Minutes," as are all the talking heads, schmoozing Clinton's $8 million doorstop, the 900-page, one-stop oeuvre of his very own life. The Summer of Bill Clinton has just begun and promises to occlude Kerry's planet well into the fall if not through election time.

As for the Clinton-Bush frat party, it boils down to this. For all their differences, and even, perhaps, their dislike of one another, the two men belong to the same club. They are conjoined by a mutual and singular experience - the presidency - and a shared enemy. Us.

That is, the rest of us, especially members of the media, who pillory and pummel presidents and first ladies, forcing them essentially to live in solitary confinement, barricaded against the cruel and merciless cudgel of public opinion.

And then, of course, there's John F. Kerry, political foe for both the Clintons and the Bushes. Both first families harbor the same private dream, if unspoken by half, which is that Kerry lose in November, thus securing a second term for Bush and making more likely a successful Hillary run in 2008.

If your name is Kerry, this unlikely quartet makes for a long, hot summer and some b-a-a-d juju.

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