The Three Amigos are annoying

Posted: Apr 18, 2005 12:00 AM

What is the deal with Bush, Bush & Clinton, and am I the only one to find this presidential reality show, starring Theirs Truly, extremely annoying?

What we see in photo-op after photo-op is something that goes beyond protocol, the codified strictures that have evolved to lend that impersonal, if awesome, dignity to gatherings of state, right down to their least prepossessing attendees. We see instead "The Three Amigos," as Newsweek has dubbed Bush, Bush & Clinton. The Three Amigos can't have dignity; they have to have personality. Camaraderie. Maybe even adventures aboard Air Force One. First stop, tsunami-land, where Dad and Bill offer aid and comfort in leisure wear. Next, it's Dad and Bill and W. in Rome, soberly suited for the pope's funeral. Then, it's dinner for three with Berlusconi; later, it's briefings for the "troika" with Condi. What next -- a remake of "The Three Musketeers"?

The fact is, these guys aren't all for one and one for all. And this is where things get annoying. First of all, as presidents they don't just represent the culmination of the democratic process at a given time -- 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, respectively. They bring clanging, clashing generational baggage to the job; they can't help it. George Bush (41) is the last president from the so-called Greatest Generation. Bill Clinton (42) is the first president from the Baby Boom. Symbolically, they are as far apart as World War II and the 1960s. George W. Bush (43) may be the second president from the Baby Boom, but not having opposed the Vietnam War as Bill Clinton did, he skipped the elite-approved New Left 1960s experience. (In case you missed the 2004 election, George W. Bush joined the Air National Guard in 1968; at about that time, in case you missed the 1992 election, Bill Clinton "loathe(d) the military.")

Of course, that's just how these men started out on their distinctly separate paths to the Oval Office: It's what they did there once they got behind the desk that really makes the buddy routine ring false. Or what Clinton did there, that is. And I'm not just talking about the Oval Office-overlap of Monica Lewinsky, oral sex, and a telephone discussion with a congressman about troop movements in Bosnia -- although certainly this less-than-harmonic convergence is the nadir of the American presidency. The grime, slop and tawdriness of the Clinton years is infamous, culminating not in the historic Clinton impeachment in 1998, but in a slew of 11th-hour Clinton pardons in January 2001 for assorted crooks and cretins.

As far back as 1992, Bush (41) famously placed any and all of Clinton's character deficiencies beyond the scope of his campaign. For this we can say, thanks a lot, George. Maybe, just maybe, lashing into the "bimbo eruptions," the shady deals, the draft evasion, etc., could have made a difference on Election Day. Probably not, though. Bush pere was no Second-term Coming. But Bush's discretion proves a point; namely, that he believed in the tradition of the Marquis of Queensbury more than in the ghost of Lee Atwater. By the time Bush fils came along, the line on the innumerable Clinton-Gore scandals was a promise to "restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office." This would ultimately include a new paint job on Inauguration Day 2001. Bush (43) had a fresh start -- although no thanks to his predecessor, Clinton (42), who has openly questioned Bush's legitimacy as the 2000 election winner.

Shouldn't bygones be bygones? Frankly, if these clashes were purely private, maybe so.
Certainly, they wouldn't be cause for discussion. But these were affairs of state (absolutely no pun intended) and they involved urgent matters of principle. "Patching things up," as unelected citizens might or might not choose to do, isn't really an option for public servants in this case -- unless, of course, they now consider the clashes to have been purely personal, and, worse, the principles unimportant.

One more thing: It may be a flash in the PR pan, but reports about a new biography of Hillary Clinton by Edward Klein promise revelations that could be damaging to the senator from New York's presidential aspirations. In such a case, hubby's newfound friendship with those mind-your-manners, blue-blazer-born Bushes would only help fend off any future sleaze. All for one and one for all? Frankly, discretion really is the better part of valor. And that's precisely what protocol tells us.