Presidential Getaways

President Clinton may well remember for the rest of his life the nine days he spent in a country of more than a billion people, not one of whom seemed to care about Monica Lewinsky.

When a student in Beijing University asked him on live television, "If you have other hidden things behind this smile?" he might have been relieved to know that his questioner didn't mean hidden personal things requiring a deposition, just a hidden policy on China.

Mr. Clinton is not the first president to leave the country when things are going badly for him and to revel in the reception he gets in a foreign country.

In June 1974, less than two months before he was forced to resign, the impeachment process under full steam, President Nixon flew to Cairo, exhilarated at the kind of welcome that President Anwar Sadat had laid on for him, more than a million people lining the streets.

Ignoring security concerns, Nixon rode in an open car, drinking up the cheers of the Egyptians. He called it the most tumultuous welcome any American president ever received anywhere in the world. A little exaggerated. More people turned out for President Wilson in Europe in 1919, and for President Eisenhower in India in 1959, and President Kennedy in Berlin in 1963.

That trip did so much for his spirits that two weeks later he was off to Russia for a summit meeting with his friend Leonid Brezhnev at which the word "Watergate" never came up. Indeed, Brezhnev made the graceful gesture of discussing a date for the next summit.

And there was President Kennedy, who in June 1963 contemplated an array of problems, including a civil rights bill in trouble in Congress, violent civil rights clashes in the South, and the Vietnam War that was already going badly.

And so he flew to Germany where crowds chanted "Ken-ne-dy, Ken-ne-dy," and to Berlin to the acclaim of some 2 million people who went crazy when he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Later Kennedy said, "We'll never have another day like this one so long as we live."

And he told Chancellor Conrad Adenauer that he would leave for his successor a sealed envelope with three words of advice to be opened when things were going badly at home: "Go to Germany."

So Clinton may leave his message for the next president, "Go to China."

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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