As if he hadn’t already been re-elected, as if he could garner votes here anyway, President Clinton is making his way through Australia much as he made his way across the United States all year: speech by speech and hand by hand.
With a little golf mixed in for good measure.
On a trip that’s a combination of work and play, Clinton appears unable to stop himself from indulging a habit perfected in two decades of running for office. He sees a hand, he has to shake it. He sees a gaggle of people, he has to win it over.
So it has been that for much of the two days the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in Sydney, the following pattern has been established: The president wades into a crowd or through a room grabbing hands; Australian Prime Minister John Howard tags behind him, patiently waiting for the show to end.
Clinton had barely stepped onto the long, red carpet at the foot of Air Force One when it started Tuesday night.
He waited just long enough for a 21-gun salute, the U.S. and Australian national anthems and a welcome from a sword-toting soldier. He ceremoniously reviewed the troops, about 40 representatives of the Australian army, navy and air force, and greeted some dignitaries.
Then, Clinton spied the throng.
And off he went.
With Howard in tow, Clinton made a beeline across the tarmac to several hundred fans, a number of whom waved small U.S. flags and burst into whoops as his ample hands reached outward over heads and shoulders to grasp more and more outstretched fingers.
“Good on ya, Bill,” they called out. “Good on ya.”
So uncharacteristic was the scene here that at least two local newspapers reported that Clinton “broke ranks” with his handlers and Australian dignitaries to touch the people.
Then, there are the speeches. American audiences have heard them … and heard them … and heard them.
But here are fresh ears.
So Clinton has regaled with his uplifting vision of the 21st century. In this slightly broadened version, Americans walk arm-in-arm with their friends from Down Under as they make their way through a “new era of freedom and possibilities.”
Of course, there are a few snags. Like the wheat that the U.S. subsidizes, undercutting Australian farmers on the world market. Or the leather car seats that the Australian government treats in much the same way.
Or the faux pas made by a president reared in the independent tradition of a former British colony when toasting the titular head of a country with a different take on history.
During a lunch in his honor at the Parliament building in Canberra, Clinton offered the obligatory salutation to the health of “her majesty, the queen of Australia.” As one Australian pointed out to a White House aide, calling Elizabeth II the queen of Australia would be akin to calling Clinton the president of Ohio.
Still, it appeared alliances would survive. The consummate campaigner from America charmed Sydney with even greater ease than he does at home. Australian officials were delighted with his pledges to smooth over trade disputes and to remain active in both security and economic issues in the Pacific region.