Obama, Clin­ton hide their ten­sions be­hind smiles

Two pres­i­dents travel to­gether to honor JFK

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

What­ever ten­sion ex­ists be­tween Pres­i­dent Obama and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton — and by all ac­counts, there’s plenty — it wasn’t on full dis­play Wed­nes­day when the two men came to­gether for a White House cer­e­mony and a trib­ute to the late Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Obama lav­ished praise on Mr. Clin­ton as he pre­sented him with the Medal of Free­dom, the na­tion’s high­est civil­ian honor. The 42nd pres­i­dent and for­mer Arkansas gov­er­nor was one of 16 Amer­i­cans who re­ceived the medal dur­ing an event in the White House.

Per­haps in an at­tempt to down­play bad blood, Mr. Obama saved his glow­ing re­marks about Mr. Clin­ton for last.

Mr. Obama praised Mr. Clin­ton for his work in elected of­fice and for his post-pres­i­den­tial ef­forts with the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive. He also thanked his Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sor for his coun­sel and “ad­vice on and off the golf course.”

“As pres­i­dent, he proved that with the right choices, you could grow the econ­omy, lift peo­ple out of poverty, we could shrink our deficits and still in­vest in our fam­i­lies, our health, our schools, sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy. In other words, we can go fur­ther when we look out for each other,” Mr. Obama said, at times look­ing di­rectly at Mr. Clin­ton as he spoke.

“As we’ve all seen, as pres­i­dent, he was just get­ting started,” Mr. Obama said. “He doesn’t stop. He’s helped lead relief ef­forts af­ter the Asian tsunami, Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, the Haiti earth­quake. His foun­da­tion and global ini­tia­tive have helped to save or im­prove the lives of lit­er­ally hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple. … Thank you so much, Pres­i­dent Clin­ton.”

Later in the day, the two men and their wives — first lady Michelle Obama and Mr. Obama’s 2008 po­lit­i­cal ri­val and for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton — took part in a somber wreath-lay­ing trib­ute to Kennedy at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. Fri­day will mark the 50th an­niver­sary of Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion, and Mr. Obama and Mr. Clin­ton, nei­ther of whom spoke at the Ar­ling­ton ser­vice, spent a few min­utes vis­it­ing with mem­bers of the Kennedy fam­ily at the grave site.

Al­though their fric­tion wasn’t ap­par­ent Wed­nes­day, there still were signs of a frosty re­la­tion­ship.

The Oba­mas and the Clin­tons trav­eled from the White House to Ar­ling­ton in the same limou­sine but left the cer­e­mony in dif­fer­ent cars.

Later on Wed­nes­day, some po­lit­i­cal pun­dits noted that Mr. Clin­ton stood stone-faced just be­fore Mr. Obama pre­sented him with his medal, even as the sit­ting pres­i­dent smiled at Mr. Clin­ton.

Mr. Clin­ton did smile and laugh as he was given the medal.

The two men’s of­ten-rocky re­la­tion­ship can be traced to the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, where Mr. Obama bested Mrs. Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic Party pri­mary. Since then, Mr. Clin­ton of­ten has seem­ingly crit­i­cized Mr. Obama, or praised his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, at par­tic­u­larly inop­por­tune times.

In ad­di­tion to Mr. Clin­ton, Medal of Free­dom re­cip­i­ents Wed­nes­day in­cluded Sally Ride, the first Amer­i­can woman in space; me­dia mogul Oprah Win­frey; coun­try mu­sic icon Loretta Lynn; for­mer Sen. Richard G. Lu­gar, Indiana Repub­li­can; fem­i­nist and jour­nal­ist Glo­ria Steinem; leg­endary col­lege bas­ket­ball coach Dean Smith; and for­mer Wash­ing­ton Post ed­i­tor Ben Bradlee.

Later Wed­nes­day, Mr. Obama spoke at a din­ner for Medal of Free­dom honorees at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion and praised the late Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, say­ing he and his fam­ily gave to the na­tion “a legacy of ser­vice” that re­minded peo­ple “that the power to change this coun­try is ours.”

Mr. Obama said Kennedy cre­ated the award shortly be­fore his death to em­pha­size that the tri­umph of Amer­ica is the “cul­mi­na­tion of our com­mon en­deav­ors.”

“There’s no one way to con­trib­ute to the suc­cess of Amer­ica,” Mr. Obama said. “Our tri­umph is found not sim­ply in the ex­er­tion of our power.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama presents the Medal of Free­dom to for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton dur­ing a White House cer­e­mony be­fore vis­it­ing the grave site of the man who cre­ated the honor, John F. Kennedy. Mr. Clin­ton stood stone-faced as Mr. Obama smiled and heaped praise on him.

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