A Fraternité Party

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, November 8, 2007

When the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and Revolutionary War hero, visited George Washington, he presented the father of our country with, among other things, two golden pheasants, two hounds and some mules.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy carried no livestock with him to Mount Vernon yesterday, but he brought what for President Bush has become a rare and valuable thing: the affection of a Frenchman.

While large numbers of Sarkozy's countrymen regard the American president as the devil incarnate, the new French president described Bush as "open-minded" and "warm." With Bush at his side on the lawn of George Washington's mansion yesterday, Sarkozy gushed about his visit: "So much friendship, so much love."

Indeed, Sarkozy seemed to fancy himself a modern-day Lafayette, retracing the steps of the French noble who became Washington's aide-de-camp. This cast Bush in the supporting role of George Washington, a performance Bush was delighted to give. The result was an extended historical reenactment by the two world leaders.

"In 1777, another George W. welcomed to America another Frenchman; his name was Lafayette," Bush said Tuesday night in a toast to Sarkozy. Sarkozy answered with an anecdote about John Quincy Adams, "who was welcoming Lafayette in these selfsame walls, in this selfsame house."

The toasts done, White House aides sent in the after-dinner entertainment: a professional Washington impersonator toasting an actor playing Lafayette.

The Lafayette figure called Washington "the father of liberty." The Washington character called Lafayette "France's bravest son." The Washington character invited the Lafayette character to join him on Wednesday at Mount Vernon -- precisely the day Bush and Sarkozy were scheduled to lunch at Washington's mansion on Chesapeake Bay crabs, seared rockfish and apple tart. A la mode, of course.

Sarkozy continued his Lafayette tour yesterday morning as he addressed a joint meeting of Congress. "I speak to you as I stand before the portraits of Washington and of Lafayette," he said. "Lafayette was the first to speak to both chambers."

Bush resumed his George Washington duties at the afternoon news conference. "Welcome here to George Washington's old home," the new George Washington said.

"I especially enjoyed the skit of the dialogue between George Washington and Lafayette that we witnessed," the new Lafayette replied.

As the French say: Trop c'est trop. The theme could not have been any more over the top if the two men wore powdered wigs and false teeth.

On the other hand, it was a welcome diversion for two leaders in need of an escape from the trials of 21st-century life. Bush, after nearly seven years on the job, struggles to secure the support of three in 10 Americans. Sarkozy, after just five months on the job, lost the support of his own wife, who refused to join him on an earlier visit with Bush and divorced Sarkozy last month.

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