Thursday, May 28, 2009 8:34 AM
By: Joseph Curl, The Washington Times
Time may heal 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 led their opposing parties in the White House for the past 16 years, 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. Front-row ticket holders also get a photo with the two ex-presidents.
The event will be only the second public appearance by Mr. Bush since leaving office; his first was also in Canada, in Calgary. Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, is an old hand on the speakers' circuit, hauling in a reported $31 million in speech fees from 2001 to 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!" as its Web site, www.powerwithin.com, proclaims exuberantly. The Toronto-based company is affiliated with self-help guru Tony Robbins, "the nation's foremost authority on the psychology of peak performance."
No one will divulge details about how the joint appearance came about. Rob Saliterman, Mr. Bush's spokesman, said only that "the event organizers proposed the idea for the event to the former presidents, and they agreed to it."
Mr. Clinton's handlers didn't return calls seeking comment.
But the two baby boomers - born just six weeks apart in 1946 - suddenly are far more alike than different. They are members not only of the exclusive former presidents' club, but also of 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 slap at Mr. Clinton's ethical troubles while in office - he tapped his Democratic predecessor for help later in his presidency.
"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, last White House press secretary to Mr. Bush.
In January 2005, Mr. Bush named his father and Mr. Clinton to head up private fundraising efforts to help nations devastated by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The two bonded, despite the fact that Mr. Clinton portrayed the elder Mr. Bush as out of touch during their 1992 presidential contest.
Mr. Bush the younger, who had been bitter about that election, had actually started to warm toward Mr. Clinton months earlier. In June 2004, he unveiled official portraits of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, at the White House.
"The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man," said Mr. Bush, calling his predecessor a man 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."
Mr. Clinton returned the favor at the ceremony.
"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," he said.
The thaw between the two former commanders in chief deepened 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," Mrs. Perino said. "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."
Still, there has always been a political chasm between the two. During the contentious contest last year for the Democratic presidential nomination, which former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was seeking, Mr. Clinton slammed the Bush administration's "cronyism" in its response for Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bush, meanwhile, sought to portray Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona as more experienced than Mrs. Clinton.
Yet the most recent phase of the two men's relationship has been marked by civility and respect.
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 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre 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. ... Laugh at all the protesters outside who wish they were in the same room. Time is running out," the lister wrote.