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Bush's speech brings Obama and Clinton together -- but apart

January 28, 2008 | 11:01 pm

Now that the harsh rhetoric of the South Carolina Democratic primary is behind them and Bill Clinton has moved on to burn the political landscape somewhere else, and Barack Obama whupped Hillary Clinton more than two to one in the Palmetto State and then got the endorsement of JFK's brother and daughter and the brother's son, Patrick, the two remaining Democratic senators competing to live in the White House are still not pals.

Politics makes for strange, uh, bedfellows, but by the looks of things, don't expect a Democratic ticket pairing of these two anytime soon.

Body language or whatever, they clearly do not like each other. Some say the coolness began last winter when Obama surprised Clinton by changing the mind she thought he'd made up and deciding to run against her for their party's nomination. Until then, the nomination had seemed hers to inherit.

And nowhere was that personal chilliness more evident than at President Bush's State of the Union speech this evening, a political theater piece that ...

brings members of both houses and virtually all the District's other high-falutin' folks dangerously together for an hour or two in one place. Suddenly, people who lob daily grenades of mean words at each other are crowding the aisle to shake the unpopular president's hand and get his autograph on their speech invitations.

Bush has addressed a joint session of Congress nine times, seven of them State of the Union addresses. But tonight, before Bush had said one of the 5,764 words in his longest State of the Union speech (174 words longer than last year's), he had shaken House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand three times.

None of that for Clinton and Obama. The Times' Noam Levey had his eyes on Clinton and Obama before the speech. They passed close to each other and exchanged neither word nor glance -- nor handshake. Obama caught up with his new best friend, Sen. Ted Kennedy, patted him on the back and not accidentally sat next to him for the entire session for all the cameras to see, often exchanging animated conversation.

Clinton, clad in scarlet, did shake Kennedy's hand, but Obama turned away for that.

During the speech, which requires members of the president's party to applaud and stand up numerous times, while the opposition sits sullenly in place, Clinton looked like she was listening to one of her own stump speeches for the 200th time. She did applaud when Bush said the Iraq surge was working. Clinton sat near Sen. Joe Biden, who recently gave up his own presidential quest with a twinge of bitterness. Neither looked very pleased.

When the president said his tax cuts should be made permanent or else they'd be an $1,800 tax increase on millions of Americans, Clinton didn't applaud again. When Bush said democracy around the world leads to a better life, Massachusetts' other Sen. John Kerry, who once had plans to give his own State of the Union speech, found the energy to applaud.

But when Bush talked about less government involvement in healthcare, none of the Democrats expressed appreciation with their hands.

Still, after his 52-minute, 56-second remarks as the president made his way through the crowd of legislators, he shook the hand of Kennedy, his partner for the No Child Left Behind education reform. And Obama also maneuvered himself to shake Bush's hand. They exchanged smiles and, in the true Texas style of governors greeting legislators, Bush said, "Hey, buddy, how's it going?" Clinton was already leaving.

And what, you might ask, about Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential wannabe with an invite to the joint session? Well, he was far away, still campaigning through the evening for Tuesday's crucial Republican primary in Florida, trying to become the next person to give a State of the Union speech to a joint session.

-- Andrew Malcolm