Bill Clinton left the White House with something President Bush desperately needs: media attention.
America, for the past month, has witnessed one of the strangest presidential transitions in history. Not since 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace, has the media been whipped into this kind of frenzy covering a former chief executive.
But Nixon had the good sense to retreat into public exile at his home in San Clemente, Calif.
Clinton, on the other hand, is suffering from post-presidential hubris syndrome. He relishes center stage. And although news coverage about him has been virtually all negative and embarrassing, Clinton can't seem to let go of the spotlight - and the Clinton bashers can't let go of him. Regardless, the combative Comeback Kid never met a camera he didn't like.
Bush, meanwhile, comes across as a media second banana.
Does anybody care about the guy running the country?
No wonder Bush said this week of the Clinton controversy: "It's time to move on." Translation: "Hey people, pay some attention to me."
But who notices Bush when Clinton's legal and ethical dilemmas are busting out all over.
In the past few weeks, the former leader of the free world has had to: admit he lied under oath about denying a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky; return gifts and furniture, and move his proposed pricey New York office digs from Manhattan to Harlem.
Clinton also had to defend his controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose former wife, Denise, donated $450,000 to the Clinton library and more than $1 million to the Democratic Party.
Did someone say Clinton fatigue?
"The coverage Clinton has been getting lately far outweighs the coverage for Bush," said Av Westin, former executive producer of ABC News who has been involved with reporting on presidents for nearly six decades. "If the news wasn't so bad, you would almost think Clinton wanted it this way." All the Clinton ink and TV time, Westin believes, is crimping Bush's public relations push for his own agenda during his so-called honeymoon period in office.
Clinton's daily media dance has taken the spice out of Bush's media honeymoon. "That's why it doesn't surprise me that Bush is saying let it go," Westin said in a phone interview. "Bush has a very sophisticated media plan in place and because of the coverage of Clinton, it's hard to get it going."
Bush, Westin said, wants to emulate Ronald Reagan's public relations style. Michael Deaver, Reagan's former media adviser who has been consulting with Bush's people, used a style of getting one message out per week.
The first week in office for Bush emphasized his education agenda. The second week focused on the economy, and the third week on the military. The only problem is that the public and the media were more focused on Clinton's furniture, his new office and Marc Rich.
Instead of seeing Bush addressing the military this week on TV news, viewers repeatedly saw a film clip of Denise Rich presenting Clinton a golden saxophone at a fund-raising event.
Longtime Clinton media watchers are not surprised.
"It's the same kind of intense coverage and reaction that Clinton has been getting for the past eight years," Westin said. "Only he's not the president anymore."
Clinton's biggest media failing seems to be that he doesn't understand he lacks the stature of the presidency to carry on his battles for public opinion. He's just a private citizen, but he carries on the fight as if he had all the clout of the White House behind him. "But all this could cost Clinton in the long run," said Westin, who won more than 20 Emmy Awards for news during his career and wrote the book, "Newswatch: How TV Decides The News." "It could hurt his credibility about being a voice of opposition about Bush's policies."
Some feel that Bush has benefited from Clinton's problems and media scrutiny.
"It's put a better gloss on the Bush presidency and I think the media has been far too soft on Bush," said Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, a national, left-leaning weekly publication.
"Bush showed contempt, not compassion for the broad center" of the American voters, she believes pointing to his proposed $1.6 billion tax cut; his appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general and a gag order that prohibits international family planning groups that receive federal money from even discussing abortion with clients.
While vanden Heuvel admits the Marc Rich pardon story deserves "scrutiny" she adds the coverage has been "narrow" and more about getting Clinton.
Also, Hillary Rodham Clinton is now a member of the U.S. Senate and her husband's woes have tarnished her media image. They may be lumped together as part of the same media package.
"The Clintons have so dominated the media landscape the past eight years; it's their actions that drive an obsessive media," vanden Heuvel said. "They're part of a national psychodrama that gets riveting attention. And they're fodder for the talk shows and Republican politicians."
Bush has exhibited a kind of quiet calm during his time in office. Unlike Clinton, he doesn't wage daily battles with the press, or, at least at this point, have reporters following his every move.
Last week a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll indicated 57 percent of the American people approved of the job Bush was doing as president, and 65 percent approved of him as a person. But that might never be enough to top Clinton on the media ladder. Maybe Chris Rock best described the former president's ability to be all things to all people and all media when he told Larry King: "He's black, he's blue, he's just the best of all time."