By Richard Carreño
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
It was almost surreal. On one hand, there was Tony Blair, Britain's most reviled prime minster since Margaret Thatcher. On the other, there was Bill Clinton, America's most beloved BFF in modern times. And there was the amnesic, adoring crowd. In between, there was a new medal on Blair's chest. And a very real check for $100,000 in his pocket. 'Oh,' oozed a suburban reporter next to me.'I feel so sorry for Bill. He's had such a hard day.'
The occassion, Monday night, the 22nd bestowment of Philadelphia's lovebug, the Liberty Medal, was a hugfest arranged by the National Constitution Center, and, under a clear sky and bright lights on Independence Mall, about 500 well-wishers apple-polished Blair as the architect of Middle East peace, the linch-pin of sectarian reconcilation in Northern Ireland, and the something or other -- maybe 'savior,' I think -- of Africa.
It was as if George W. Bush had just joined Jerry Lewis in receiving the French Legion d'Honneur. With Mayor Michael 'A.WOL' Nutter and Ed 'I Take Full Responsibility' Rendell in attendance. It was that kind of crazy.
Blair, 57, on a publicity blitz for his new best-seller, A Journey: My Political Life, was on a high as he good-naturedly quipped with the crowd ('Well, look, I'm sorry about what happened in the past,' he ad-libbed as he looked past the crowd to Independence Hall), praised his countryman Tom Paine, and got down to business, 'the celebration of that great engine of human progress -- liberty, embodied in the US Constitution.'
That kind of schmoozing was the Yank Blair, hardly the Blair who back in the UK faces single-digit popularity and widespread revulsion as W's 'poodle' in supporting the canard of WMD in Saddam's Iraq and, worse, committing British troops to Bush's and Dick Cheney's wicked folly.
What a difference a week makes.
In Dublin, last week, they were throwing eggs and shoes at him.
At The New York Times last week, Maureen Dowd was blowing poison darts. It was 'criminally naive' that Blair and W 'muffed the postwar planning.' 'So the reasoning of the man known in England as Phony Tony and Bliar amounts to this: They had to invade Iraq because Saddam could hypothetically hook up with Al Qaeda.'
In Philadelphia, they were blowing kisses, as Blair waxed affectionate about Liberty with a capital 'L' and laid out his seven-point plan -- shades of Bush, again? --to emancipate with world with Western democracy. 'All people want to be free!' he declared.
It wasn't Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri. Never mind.
American affection for ex- Brit PMs isn't new. Right-wing American politicians have enshrined Churchill for his bold stand against appeasement. (Though they tidily forget that Churchill also introduced the socialistic, communistic, fascistic National Health Service to Britain). And who can't forget Margaret Thatcher for firing Welsh coal miners? Warms your heart, don't it?
But Blair, champion of 'New' Labour, is the darling of the center-left. Like Clinton, who gushed Monday about his enduing friendship with Blair, his wife Cherie, and three children ('We ARE Fami-lee') and the old chestnut of the USA-UK 'special relationship.' 'Since [the Brits] ate Dolly Madison's dinner, our relationship [with the UK] has been all uphill,' Clinton mugged. That spot of bother called the Civil War, in which the Brits supported the Confederacy, wasn't mentioned.
Nor was Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. Nor W.
Nor the $100,000 prize, which Blair has promised will donated to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative.
'Pretty generous,' said the suburban reporter. Back home, they were calling it 'blood money.'