George W. Bush praising Bill Clinton for his "hard work, drive, determination and optimism?"

We must have entered a parallel universe.

The president was indeed gracious toward the man who defeated his father at yesterday's unveiling of the Bill & Hillary White House portraits. (Good timing for Clinton, whose 970-page book hits the stores next week.)

The ex-prez made a brief reference to this moment of civility, saying he wanted to return to the days when partisans argued about who was right and wrong, not "good and bad." In the wake of the weeklong celebration of Ronald Reagan's life, you'd think we were about to enter a kinder, gentler chapter of politics.

Not a chance.

Bush and Kerry are about to resume beating each other's brains out, complete with attack ads, e-mail blasts and tough rhetoric. The temporary cessation of hostilities was nice, you have to admit. It was interesting to watch the likes of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale say nice things about Reagan. But such magnanimous behavior tends to come only in the past tense, not when the political wars are raging and control of the White House is at stake.

You wonder how a modern presidential candidate who ran only on his positive vision and took only gentle jabs at his opponent would fare these days. Actually, you don't have to wonder. John Edwards tried that, and won one primary.

Now Edwards is popping up again in the veepstakes, which was put on hold (at least in the media) for the Reagan remembrances (until someone decided the day of the funeral would be a good time to leak word of McCain's non-acceptance).

Edwards doesn't seem suited to the VP candidate's traditional attack-dog role, but he's got plenty of backing, the New York Times | reports:

"Democratic senators and Senate candidates are pressing John Kerry to name one of their own, John Edwards of North Carolina, as his running mate, in part because they believe Mr. Edwards would help Democrats in five tossup races in the South and give the party a fighting chance to recapture control of the Senate.

"The Democratic senators, from the South as well as from other parts of the country, say the choice of Mr. Edwards would allow candidates in North and South Carolina, Oklahoma and Louisiana to openly associate themselves with a national ticket that they have mainly avoided. Beyond that, they say, Mr. Edwards would be a strong candidate elsewhere in the nation. . . .

"In North Carolina, the Democrat who is running to succeed Mr. Edwards was even more blunt about his desire that Mr. Edwards be named to the ticket.

"'I've had lots of people who are close to Kerry ask me, and I've always been very candid: he'd be nuts not to pick him,' said the candidate, Erskine Bowles, a Charlotte investment banker and former White House chief of staff."

But would Edwards even bring along North Carolina?

I've been skeptical of Tom Vilsack's chances if only because it's risky to pick someone you have to introduce to the country (see Quayle, Dan). The Los Angeles Times |,1,4882180.story looks at the Iowa governor:

"Why Vilsack? Allies suggest he would be a bright and articulate spokesman for Democrats, a fresh face to inspire some media buzz but not so sparkling (like the glib and handsome Edwards) as to steal the limelight from Kerry.

"He also has the sort of dramatic biography that television and newspaper reporters love: orphaned at birth, then adopted as an infant by a well-to-do Pittsburgh couple. He managed to transcend physical abuse by his alcoholic mother to build a successful career in law and politics . . ."

What is it with pols and alcoholic parents? Both Reagan and Clinton had to deal with drunken dads.

"But all that does not change the fact that Vilsack's name and face are a mystery to most Americans. His state, assuming he can deliver it, offers only seven electoral votes. Perhaps most importantly, Vilsack has limited foreign policy experience. At a time when the U.S. is still at war in Iraq and concerned about the threat of terrorism at home, Kerry may opt for a partner with a more worldly resume."

A new AP poll has Edwards at 36, Gephardt 19, Clark 18 and Vilsack 4. Of course, only one man's vote counts in this race.

And then there's the reluctant running mate:

"You can stomp it, you can beat it, you can drive a stake through its hear, but it will not die: The media will not let go of the John McCain for vice president story," Roger Simon | declares.

"John McCain has said he does not want to be John Kerry's running mate so many times, he probably figures that someday, somebody will believe him.

"Maybe, maybe not. The media love John McCain. We would love him to be on a national ticket so we could ride on his bus again, recount his saga and just hang out with him."

The New York Times | notes the weirdness of Clinton's return to the White House:

"For a moment in the White House on Monday morning, it seemed like a political mirage: President Bush and Bill Clinton, joking as they walked together into the East Room, then spending the next 20 minutes effusively praising each other.

"But the even stranger sight was the audience, the men and women who make up Senator John Kerry's brain trust, almost all of them veterans of the Clinton era who have not set foot in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for three years, four months and 24 days, vigorously applauding the sitting president they are desperately trying to ride out of town.

"Peace finally broke out this morning -- well, a truce that ended after lunch -- between two administrations that make no secret of how viscerally they dislike each other. The brief lull in the street fighting permitted the unveiling of the official White House portraits of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- which will now, by tradition, occupy the places where portraits of Mr. Bush's father and mother now hang.

"Graciousness oozed from all sides. Mr. Bush praised his predecessor. . . . His face reddening, his eye tearing a bit, Mr. Clinton returned the compliment."

The Clintonian income is down a bit, reports Reuters |

"Former President Bill Clinton earned almost $4 million for speeches last year, less than half what he drew each of the previous two years, as he focused on writing his memoirs, a financial disclosure statement showed yesterday.

"'He is in more demand than ever, but in light of his book-writing and charitable work, he has had to turn down five requests for every one he accepted,' Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy said of the speaking engagements.

"For two dozen speeches around the globe, Clinton received a total of about $3.9 million in 2003, according to the statement. He received more than $9 million in speaking fees in each of 2001 and 2002."

We should all have such problems.

Other financial disclosures, as noted by the Los Angeles Times |,1,2921829.story:

"Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, reported receiving nearly $90,000 in royalties for his book, 'A Call to Service,' and said he donated the proceeds to charities. The 76-page report, which Kerry released in May, showed the candidate with four trusts worth between $430,000 and $2.1 million. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, has an estimated personal fortune of $500 million.

"Among other authors, Daschle reported that he received $449,000 for his book, 'Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years that Changed America Forever.' He donated the proceeds to charity.

"Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also donated to charity the nearly $160,000 he got from his three books.

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) reported that she received about $2.3 million for her book, 'Living History,' with more than 3 million copies sold worldwide, her aide said."

Man, the Senate has a bunch of great literary talents.

The Note | does some electoral math and finds Bush ahead:

"As of today, we have 20 states as 'likely Republican' states and 11 states plus the District of Columbia as 'likely Democrat' states, bringing the base electoral vote counts to 172 for President Bush and 168 for Sen. Kerry.

"That leaves us with 19 battleground states, which we allotted to Bush or Kerry as best we could at the moment.

"We have nudged, or forced, eight of those states into Bush's column and five into Kerry's column -- making the tough calls about where currently close states will likely end up when the voting actually happens. . . . When we factor in these battleground assignments, George Bush leads John Kerry 254 to 217 in the Electoral College vote count."

The six remaining states up for grabs: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Hampshire and New Mexico. Under this scenario, Bush could get to 270 just by winning Pennsylvania or Ohio.

Josh Marshall | jumps on the Bush/Pope story:

"Just what sort of activisim is it Bush is asking the Pontiff to press upon the bishops?

"It seems a pretty small leap to think that pressing the denial of communion issue is one of them. And sources told the National Catholic Reporter that 'while Bush was focusing primarily on the [gay] marriage question, he also had in mind other concerns such as abortion and stem cell research.'

"Presidents regularly meet with Popes. Certainly they talk about matters both political and moral, perhaps even theological. But is it the president's place to press the pope to sow religious divisions among American Catholics, a majority of whom seem uncomfortable with the efforts of some in the hierarchy to discipline pro-Choice Catholic politicians? And all that aside is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign?"

Andrew Sullivan | is equally wary:

"The attempt by this White House to court devoutly religious voters is getting more and more direct. John Allen is a great reporter so I doubt he's wrong that president Bush lobbied the Vatican to support the Constitutional Amendment to strip gay couples of any rights under the law. The Rove strategy is to use hostility to marriage rights for gays to unite a hoped-for 'Popular Front' of conservative Catholics, evangelicals and fundamentalists. Call it the Mel Gibson strategy, or The Last Temptation of Dubya.

"The president's problem is that the grass roots aren't exactly playing their part. They don't seem to believe that fusing politics and religion is what evangelicalism is all about; and Catholics -- even highly traditional ones -- are leery of seeing their Church turned into a branch of the Republican party. So, whatever their views on marriage rights, they have been lukewarm about the president's attempt to write gay couples out of the Constitution. . . . [H]ow weird that a president of the U.S. would try to persuade the Roman pontiff to take a position on an American constitutional amendment."

The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook | offers a different complaint of the Reagan proceedings:

"In terms of symbols, the Reagan state funeral was overdone, even for a beloved former president -- though what a relief to have a beloved former president for a change -- and the politics of the symbols all wrong. Axial to Reagan's worldview was that government should be modest and inexpensive; to remember him, an elaborate cost-no-object event was held at public expense. Closing the federal government and shutting down the mail on Friday, so that citizens were taxed that day but received no services, seemed almost a satire of Reagan's worldview.

"The Framers were suspicious of state funerals, which they viewed as tools of cult of personality, antithetical to democracy; Washington and Jefferson did not receive state funerals. Reagan surely had no intent of establishing a cult of personality -- he told too many jokes at his own expense for that -- but it would have been nice had he known that the Framers were opposed to elaborate state funerals. Lincoln is the first president to have received a state funeral, and it was patterned on the 1861 funeral of Prince Albert, which is hardly a good model for a democracy. Since Lincoln, the idea has taken hold that on death a president should receive extensive solemn pomp; actually this stands in violation of Jeffersonian thought. . . .

"The whole military feeling of the event was wrong. Ronald Reagan never led the United States in war, and maybe the greatest thing about Ronald Reagan was that he never led the United States in war."

Dan Kennedy | says Google isn't all that hard:

"Look at what former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards writes in yesterday's Boston Globe:

"'One of my colleagues at Princeton said recently that if one went to Google and typed in the word "waffle," Kerry's name would come up. I haven't checked it out, but a newly reported Los Angeles Times poll found that nearly half of voters questioned called Kerry a flip-flopper.'

"'I haven't checked it out.' Okay, it's a jibe, but in order for it to work there ought to be something to it, right? Well, go over to Google, enter 'waffle,' and click on 'I'm Feeling Lucky,' which is where other politically oriented jokes reside (for instance, try this with 'weapons of mass destruction').

"Done? What do you have? 'Welcome to Waffle House!' The waffle with two eggs, sausage, or bacon sounds particularly good, although it could prove fatal.

"Now, go back to Google, enter 'waffle' again, and hit the regular 'Google Search' button. Results 1 through 10 are for recipes, movies, anything but politics. Result #11, though, takes you to, home of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. I clicked, but the page to which Google linked does not actually have the word 'waffle' (or 'waffler') on it. Google probably found an outdated page in which some Bushoid referred to Kerry as a 'waffler.' No, I don't know it for a fact, but unlike Edwards I at least tried to check it out."

The Brits aren't finding Fox fair and balanced, says this Guardian report:

"Fox News has been strongly criticised by the media watchdog over a programme about the Hutton report in which it accused the BBC of lying and of adopting a 'frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism.'

"Ofcom [the Office of Communications, Britain's communications regulator] today upheld more than 20 complaints about the programme, in which Fox news anchor John Gibson said the BBC had 'felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives.'

"The programme, broadcast on January 28 -- the day the Hutton report was published -- sparked 24 complaints to Ofcom with viewers claiming it was 'misleading,' 'went far beyond reasoned criticism' and 'misrepresented the truth.'

"In it Gibson claimed BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan had 'insisted on air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military' and said the BBC had responded to complaints by Downing Street by insisting 'its reporter had a right to lie -- exaggerate -- because, well, the BBC knew the war was wrong.' He finished his report by saying: 'So the next time you hear the BBC bragging about how much superior the Brits are delivering the news rather than Americans who wear flags in their lapels, remember it was the Beeb caught lying.' . . .

"But Fox News defended its programme, insisting the BBC had 'continually bashed' US policy and ridiculed the president, and saying this justified the use of the phrase 'frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism.'"

I'm frothing over the way the British deal with these things.