Upstaged, Again and Again and Again

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, June 14, 2004; 1:19 PM

President Bush spent last week in the shadow of Ronald Reagan.

Then he spent the weekend in the shadow of his father, who turned 80 by throwing himself a big party and jumping out of a plane.

And today, Bush is the warm-up guy for Bill Clinton, who kicks off a massive book tour and publicity blitz by storming into the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait.

Normally, when you're president, you're the star of the show. But again and again this month, Bush is being upstaged by his predecessors.

Journalists and other pundits continue to debate whether the week-long swoon over Reagan underscored what Bush and Reagan had in common, or ways in which Bush falls short.

But Bush neither relishes nor has much to gain from comparisons to his father. Obliged to show up at the birthday festivities, Bush gave a speech that must rank among his shortest and least lofty, and features what may be his lamest joke ever.

And now, enter the Clintons. There's no margin there for Bush at all.

Bill is Back

John F. Harris writes in The Washington Post: "After a week-long flood of commentary on the most popular Republican president of modern times, the country is about to be immersed in another tide of reminiscence and argument about the most successful Democratic president within the memory of most voters. . . .

"Bush rarely mentions Clinton or his record by name. But Bush's policies are based on such opposite premises that comparisons are inescapable -- most of all in their different approaches to the world."

And amazingly enough, Clinton gets to launch it all with an event at the White House during which President Bush has to play nice.

I'd love to know whether the timing was an accident. But regardless, President Bush and the first lady host Clinton and the former first lady this morning for the unveiling of their official portraits in the East Room.

The Associated Press reports they are the first official presidential portraits painted by an African American. "The painting of the former president uses the Oval Office as a backdrop. It is the first presidential portrait in the White House collection to include the American flag."

Joie Chen profiles Simmie Knox, the painter, for CBS News.

David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times describes some of the well-orchestrated media blitz heralding the June 22 release of Clinton's memoirs.

"For five days leading up to publication, Infinity Broadcasting, which owns news radio stations in big cities around the country, and America Online will play Mr. Clinton reading a new anecdote from the book each day.

"On the Sunday before publication, Dan Rather will interview Mr. Clinton for the full hour on the CBS program '60 Minutes.' On the day of publication, Oprah Winfrey will interview him for another hour. The next day, 'Today' on NBC and 'Good Morning America' on ABC have dropped their requirements of exclusivity to run taped interviews with Mr. Clinton simultaneously."

Bush and Bush

Rick Lyman writes in the New York Times about the culmination of Bush 41's 80th birthday bash.

"Assisted by two instructors from the Army's Golden Knights parachute team, and chronicled by three other jumpers wearing video helmets, the ex-president had plummeted for 60 seconds of free fall before his parachute snapped open and he began a more gentle glide to the grassy field near his presidential library."

President Bush wasn't there for the jump, but he was at the birthday gala Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Shelby Hodge of the Houston Chronicle writes: "President George W. Bush, who, with first lady Laura Bush, kicked off the evening by joining his parents on the midfield stage for a standing ovation from the crowd."

Here's the text of his remarks. And get ready. Here comes the big joke:

"You're probably wondering how I got to be the family spokesman. (Laughter.)

"Well, we polled the family. And rumor has it, somewhere in our large family, the tiebreaking vote for tonight's speaker was cast by a fourth cousin by the name of Chad. (Laughter and applause.)

"While holding his son above the crib, Chad's father reports that the lad burped, and it sounded like, "George W." (Laughter.)

"Once again, my life was affected by a dangling chad. (Laughter and applause.)"

Has Bush ever told a worse joke? Really? Send it to me at

Bush v. Bush

Speaking of dad, Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "In their back-to-back eulogies at Washington National Cathedral yesterday, the presidents Bush revealed much about Ronald Reagan -- and about themselves....

"The elder Bush, known for courtliness and decency, emphasized Reagan's civility and humility....

"The younger Bush, by contrast, emphasized Reagan's ideological firmness, and his fierce opposition to communism and big government."

Here's the text of younger Bush's eulogy, and the text of older Bush's.

Michael Kranish writes in the Boston Globe that the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign "is in some ways a study in the contrasts between the president and former president who are both named George Bush. With commentators last week focusing on how President Bush wants to follow President Reagan's legacy, the unspoken suggestion was that Bush does not put as high a value on his own father's legacy, which, after all, made possible the career of the junior Bush.

"In fact, the legacy of the senior Bush is ever-present at the White House, partly due to the lessons learned from his disastrous 1992 reelection bid, which followed the breaking of the 'no new taxes' pledge. [Karl] Rove and other presidential advisers stress that the president holds his father in the highest admiration and shares many of his father's principles, but they leave little doubt about the regard in which they hold the senior Bush's reelection campaign."

Reagan Legacy Watch

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "George Bush begins today to try to refocus the nation on his presidency after a week when it seemed, at least from the constant replays of 1980's-era videotape on CNN, that Ronald and Nancy Reagan were fox-trotting in the White House again."

Bumiller offers yet another look at the "striking and significant contrasts in the politics, artifice and style of the two presidencies."

On CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz yesterday, Bumiller had this to say: "You should check out the Bush campaign Web site right now and the White House Web site right now, because it has basically been turned over to Ronald Reagan. I mean, the White House went all out with this, and it's sometimes hard to see on the White House Web site right now where Ronald Reagan begins and Bush ends...."

The Torture Memos

The Washington Post and reporter Dana Priest yesterday Web-posted the text of the super-controversial August 2002 Justice Department memo that sparked Priest's big story last week.

Michael Hirsh, John Barry and Daniel Klaidman write in Newsweek that the memo "was prompted by CIA questions about what to do with a top Qaeda captive, Abu Zubaydah, who had turned uncooperative. And it was drafted after White House meetings convened by George W. Bush's chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, who discussed specific interrogation techniques, says a source familiar with the discussions. Among the methods they found acceptable: 'water-boarding,' or dripping water into a wet cloth over a suspect's face, which can feel like drowning; and threatening to bring in more-brutal interrogators from other nations."

The Newsweek story says a "long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration... continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April -- - and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won't go away -- - two months after gruesome photos were published worldwide -- - is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning."

Julian Coman writes in the London Daily Telegraph: "New evidence that the physical abuse of detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay was authorised at the top of the Bush administration will emerge in Washington this week, adding further to pressure on the White House."

Halliburton Watch

Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "As the government prepared for war in Iraq in the fall of 2002, a senior political appointee in the Defense Department chose oil services giant Halliburton Co. to secretly plan how to repair Iraqi oil fields, and then briefed Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and other White House officials about the sole-source contract before it was granted. "

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the new details were disclosed last weekin a Pentagon briefing for congressional staff members.

Erik Eckholm writes in the New York Times that the new details "raise questions about assertions by Mr. Cheney and other administration officials that he knew nothing in advance of the Halliburton contracts and that the decisions were made by career procurement specialists, without involvement by senior political appointees."

Here is the text of Waxman's letter.

In other Halliburton news, O'Harrow reported in Saturday's Washington Post: "The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a formal investigation into whether a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. was among several companies that paid $180 million in bribes to win a contract to build a natural gas liquefaction plant in Nigeria in the 1990s, the company said yesterday...

"Vice President Cheney was the head of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, when some of the activities under investigation occurred."

Bush and the Vatican

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: "On his recent trip to Rome, President Bush asked a top Vatican official to push American bishops to speak out more about political issues, including same-sex marriage, according to a report in the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper."

Here's the report from John L. Allen Jr., in the National Catholic Reporter. He writes that "in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism."

Anne E. Kornblut and Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe call this " a further sign that the Catholic Church and its members could play a key role in this year's presidential campaign."

The Week Ahead

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press reports: "Bush this week is highlighting his efforts to create jobs and fight terrorists.

After a trip Monday to Liberty, Mo., to promote Medicare prescription drug benefits, Bush meets at the White House on Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on fighting terrorism....

"The war on terrorism is the topic again on Wednesday when Bush visits MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., home of the Central Command that oversees the military in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

"The president delivers an economic speech Thursday to the National Federation of Independent Business in suburban Washington. On Friday, he'll address troops at Fort Lewis, Wash., and supporters at a campaign rally in Reno, Nev."

T-Ball Watch

The fourth season of T-ball at the White House is under way.

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes: "Bush launched White House T-ball to promote interest in baseball and foster a spirit of teamwork and service."

Here are some pictures.

Here's a photo of the president getting a little advice.

© 2004