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Two Presidents Meet, With Campaign Clashes Behind Them

We've come a long way from the days of the Obama "fairy tail."

Two years to the day that Bill Clinton launched into one of the most infamous tirades of the 2008 campaign, the former president was sitting with his wife's formal rival in the Oval Office. Aides to both President Clinton and Obama claim it was just a courtesy call, with the 42nd president in town on other business. Clinton was also to greet Rahm Emanuel, a former aide in his White House and now the chief of staff.

But undoubtedly Clinton's visit was an opportunity to buck up his successor; for the great tactician-in-chief to give some advice -- solicited or not -- about Obama's many predicaments as he approaches the one year mark in office.

The situation Obama finds himself in is in many ways similar to the one Clinton's 16 years ago -- in the polls especially. Gallup this week released numbers showing that Obama holds the second-lowest approval rating of any president entering his second year, just behind Clinton, and slightly better than Ronald Reagan.

Obama took on the health care challenge earlier than did Clinton, who ran on the theme of, "It's the economy stupid." Just before the Christmas holiday, as the White House faced new criticism of their plan from their own left flank, led by Howard Dean, the administration appealed to the former president to issue a statement in support of the latest proposal. He complied.

"Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants? Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And this is a good bill," Clinton wrote.

Make no mistake: there was bad blood between Clinton and Obama during the hotly-contested Democratic primary. It was at its fiercest in the weeks after the then-Illinois senator shocked many by winning the Iowa caucuses. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary that his wife would win, Clinton told an audience at Dartmouth College that the image Obama had cultivated, particularly as the anti-war candidate, was the "biggest fairy tale" he'd ever seen.

As the campaign went on, Clinton would claim Obama's impending victory in South Carolina was based, as Jesse Jackson's was decades before, simply on race. He bristled at perceived slights of his record from Obama, particularly when he said that Clinton's presidency had not been "transformational" in the way Ronald Reagan's had. Various accounts since the campaign reveal that the wariness of Obama aides of Clinton was a leading factor in Hillary Clinton being ruled out as a serious vice presidential contender.

But since Obama took the oath of office, Clinton has proved to be a loyal and understated ally, keeping mostly to the work of his foundation and doing some political events for his wife's biggest supporters. He has been called on by the White House several times, most famously when he flew to North Korea to personally arrange for the return of American journalists being held by the oppressive regime. The two presidents have met in person at least three times now, be it at the White House or at a New York restaurant. They've consulted by phone other times as well, developing a collegial relationship grounded in the unique status each holds as the elected leader of the free world.

By close of business Thursday, neither the White House press office nor a Clinton aide had much to say about what the two leaders discussed in their latest meeting. As the current president readies his first State of the Union address, looks to close the deal on health care, and faces a new, unforeseen challenge in the war on terror, there was, of course, no shortage of material.