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In the corrosive atmosphere of Washington, it will be interesting to see how long President Bush can maintain his current role of charmer-in-chief. So far, he's doing just fine.

True to a campaign theme, Bush has hit just the right note - the high C of civility. He deserves congratulations for that.

Despite sharp partisan clashes already over three Cabinet appointments, a social service initiative and a quick reversal of former president Clinton's easing of abortion-related international aid policies, Bush has been working hard to set a new tone for policy debates.

It is possible, he said this weekend in an unprecedented presidential visit to a policy meeting of the opposing party, for people to "disagree in an agreeable way."

In just two weeks following his inauguration, Bush has joined gatherings of Republicans and Democrats from both the House and the Senate, met with the Congressional Black Caucus and even hosted the Kennedy clan for a White House screening of a movie about the Cuban missile crisis. He has sought out those who didn't support him in the last election and seem unlikely to support him in the next one, and he has shown a willingness to listen.

True bipartisan progress, of course, will take much more than that. It will take a willingness to work together, not just socialize together. And those who let themselves be swayed by form over substance aren't paying attention to what's really important.

Still, there's something to be said for style. Opposition doesn't mandate venom. In the wake of a bitter and divisive vote-counting debacle, the president is making the right moves.

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