WASHINGTON — Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will appear together in Toronto next month on a public stage for the first time since Mr. Bush ended his presidency, in a remarkable twist on the cultural cold war that Barack Obama and others are trying to lay to rest.
The two will be appearing at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on May 29 for a moderated "conversation" that is expected to last about two hours.
It is odd to think of the two presidents seated side by side, chatting amicably about the events of the past 16 years, as they are expected to do, and about the global and domestic challenges facing the United States and Canada.
After all, Mr. Bush set out to dismantle much of what Mr. Clinton accomplished, from balancing the budget to fighting global warming, even as President Barack Obama has set out to erase the Bush legacy by reversing his tax cuts, prohibiting the torture of terrorism suspects, withdrawing from Iraq and rejoining the campaign against greenhouse gases.
Audiences hoping to witness the two men tearing at each other verbally will be disappointed. Presidents do not attack presidents, at least not directly, if only because only presidents know what other presidents go through. Nonetheless, the event is a reminder of the generational and ideological conflicts that some hope are finally diminishing, as combatants age and issues recede in importance.
In that sense, their joint appearance is that of two veterans in a war that some hope may be drawing to an end.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush, both 63, are the only two presidents from the Baby Boom generation. (While Mr. Obama, at 47, technically qualifies, he identifies much more with the Internet-savvy, social-networking Gen-Xers and even the millennials who came along after.) It now appears the two presidents may be the last of their kind.
As such, they embody the ideological struggles over Vietnam, the Generation Gap and other cultural values that ignited in the 1960s and that bedevil America still, in fights over gay rights, gun rights, God in the classroom, pot on the street, protecting the Earth or projecting American power.
Although both presidents demonstrated an ability to compromise in the interests of bipartisan consensus — Mr. Clinton toughened welfare rules while Mr. Bush expanded public health care and funding for education — their opponents saw them only as the personifications of the evil of the other side.
So Mr. Clinton was impeached for abasing his office after lying about an affair with an intern.
And the wild-eyed are still trying to get Mr. Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity for their handling of the war on terror.
The meter doesn't exist to measure the time and energy that has been wasted on all of this.
That Canada snagged the first joint appearance of 42 and 43 can be credited to event planners Andy McCreath and Christian Darbyshire, who landed Mr. Bush for his first post-presidential appearance in Calgary this past March and who have also previously booked numerous events for Mr. Clinton.
Mr. McCreath and Mr. Darbyshire, both in their mid-30s, are presidents of McCreath Communications and tinePublic Inc., respectively. Their other big-name bookings include Tony Blair, Lance Armstrong, Alan Greenspan and Rudy Giuliani.
It is not known whether this occasion will be closed to the press, as was the first Bush event. Ticket prices were also not available. Although speakers' fees are not divulged, there were reports Mr. Bush received as much as $200,000 for his March appearance in Calgary.
The event will consist of the two men seated in chairs between a moderator, who has not yet been chosen.
No matter how civil the discourse, the thought of Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton on stage together is bemusing, given the animosity of the past 16 years, and the efforts under way to overcome it.
Moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are struggling in the House and Senate — albeit with indifferent success — to forge an agreement on reforms to health care, education, energy and the environment that both sides can accept and that Mr. Obama can sign.
And the President has taken repeated steps — in his overtures to Cuba, in efforts to create a bipartisan health-care consultation, in releasing the documents confirming that the CIA conducted what amounts to torture, while shielding those who acted in what they believed to be legal good faith — to bury the us-versus-them stridency of the past decades.
He might not succeed. The core of the left and the right stoke each others' antagonism, increasing the difficulty of those seeking consensus.
The media, who feed on conflict, and those who feed off the media also encourage ideological cleavage. So Fox News hosts anti-government tea parties, while MSNBC is mostly pro-Obama. On the Web, the Drudge Report can find nothing good to say about this administration, while Huffington Post huffs that it isn't activist enough.
But there are polls and pundits who suggest that, as the boomers age and socially liberal Gen-Xers and millennials shrug off the old animosities as not worth a tweet, the two former presidents and their most fervent supporters and antagonists might all be receding into historical anachronisms.
It would be interesting to hear what these two old warriors make of all this, even if they are simply shilling for their suppers and their charities.
But then, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush would be the very first to tell you that the times have passed them by.
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"two old warriors"?
make that two old war criminals !!