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Mary McGrory

'The Saddest Loss'

By Mary McGrory
Friday, April 23, 2004; Page A23

This column by Mary McGrory appeared in The Post on Jan. 10, 2002.

Even Bill Clinton's most curdled critics can summon up a little sympathy for him. He has lost his beautiful, beloved dog, Buddy. Life holds few bleaker moments. Wisecracks about Buddy's being his only true friend are out of order. Buddy was a credit to his master and the White House.

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Buddy had a gleaming chocolate coat, a glad heart and an acute understanding of Clinton's bottomless need for unconditional love. He did his White House job superbly as a mood-altering and ice-breaking presence. The self-indulgent Clinton was an indulgent dog-parent, giving the animal the run of the Oval Office without a care in the world about priceless furniture coverings. Buddy followed the sun around the room.

He was like Clinton, too, in not wanting to be left out of any gathering. Many an international parley or down-and-dirty session on domestic politics was suspended while the chief executive went to admit a whimpering Buddy for a high-level ear scratching under the eye of his beaming boss.

I had an opportunity to observe this White House relationship during the post-Christmas season of 1998, the year the House of Representatives impeached Buddy's master. The Clintons had kindly invited the older children (ages 4 to 9) of St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home to view the lavish White House Christmas decorations. I tagged along as a volunteer. The children, I am sorry to say, expressed minimum interest in the decked halls. What caught all eyes was the helicopter parked in the back yard. As a preternaturally patient Secret Service man herded the children through the historic rooms, they dashed to the windows, checking the recurrent miracle of the helicopter.

We fetched up in the Diplomatic Reception Room, where we found a little collection of sight-seeing families. We were told that we might, just might, see the president and the first lady as they headed for the helicopter. The children and I spent the time rehearsing for a possible encounter, except for Tiffany, who was having a bad hair day and refused to come out from under a table where she had taken refuge from the world. Buddy caused a stir when he entered the room led on a leash by a Secret Service agent. The children broke through the light rope lines to greet him. They embraced him and he bore their caresses negligently, his attention plainly elsewhere -- he was waiting for his main man. As soon as Clinton appeared, Buddy went into a dance of delight.

The president plunged into the little crowd with his wonted zest. We of St. Ann's rejoiced when Stephen darted out of line to greet an astonished Clinton with a perfectly rehearsed "How do you do, Mr. President? I'm glad to see you." Clinton seemed gratified at the ardor of Stephen's greeting.

Buddy was unhappy. He set up a yelping with a clear message that started everyone laughing: "I am here, your pet, your pal. Why are you wasting time on these nobodies?" Clinton called, "Hold on, Buddy, I'm comin'." And when he did, Buddy jumped up and planted his paws on the president's shoulders, and covered his face with kisses. Clinton inhaled. Buddy and he had bonded during impeachment. Alex Munthe, author of a book about the Villa San Michele, has studied monarchs' dogs and writes about the role of a Buddy during a sad and troubled moment: "He creeps up and lays his head on his lap. . . . Never mind if all abandon you. I am here to replace all your friends and fight all your enemies."

Now Clinton is condemned to relive Buddy's last hours, when inattentive caretakers failed to thwart his dash for freedom that led to a rendezvous with death on the highway. When he goes home he sees Buddy everywhere, and for weeks, he will make wide arcs around Buddy's favorite flopping places, still trying to avoid stepping on paws. He waits in vain for the delicious sensation of the cold snout in the palm of the hand that signals the arrival of the number one fan, the ecstatic welcome at any hour of day or night.

Clinton has lately been discovered whining that his successor had the supreme luck of a galvanizing world crisis. Recently, according to Richard L. Berke of the New York Times, he rallied White House alumni to consider how they would revive his legacy of good times and centrist politics. He cannot leave it to heaven or history, to thank his stars that the Senate did not judge sex in the Oval Office.

Whatever he did, dog-lovers can tell you, he is paying for it now.

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