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Clinton-Dole boathouse battle founders into the sunset -- for now


WASHINGTON -- Even Sen. Bob Dole thought all parties had finally dropped anchor on the whole matter.

But the Great Boathouse Brouhaha -- one of President Clinton's jokes that sprang a leak as it journeyed the choppy waters from the White House Correspondents Dinner last weekend to the Sunday talk shows to the war zone between the executive mansion and Capitol Hill -- well, it sails on.

the ultimate act of contrition, the president delivered a lighthearted letter to Mr. Dole yesterday to be read at today's dedication of the notorious Kansas boathouse he lambasted less than a week ago.

Not up to date on the Clinton-Dole Boathouse Battle? Here's a recap:

It all started when, in his jocular dinner remarks at Saturday night's affair, Mr. Clinton accused his Republican nemesis of asking for $23 million in public funds to turn a Wichita, Kan., senior center into a boathouse.

It got some laughs.

But Mr. Dole, not the slightest bit amused, went on TV the next morning and discredited the story, and by Monday, was declaring Mr. Clinton a fibber and the story the "White House's $23 Million Lie." He challenged the Democrat to "suit up" for some "hardball politics."

The swashbuckling pirates were at it again.

Mr. Dole explained to anyone who would listen that he had merely written a letter to the federal government -- which had put up $500,000 to help build the now-abandoned senior center in 1980 -- to ask it to relinquish ownership in the building so a nonprofit group could turn it into a boathouse.

So the White House went into retreat mode. Earlier this week, Mr. Clinton issued an apology to his political foe for his use of "hyperbole" and for basically pulling the $23 million figure out of the thin, rarefied White House air.

Then yesterday, recognizing that Mr. Dole has already done enough damage torpedoing his stimulus package and threatening to work over his entire budget proposal, Mr. Clinton went one better and delivered a friendly, just kidding, folks, letter.

So all is forgotten -- at least until the next round which, for Mr. Clinton and Mr. Dole, is never too far away.

But for now, Mr. Dole is saying no harm done. He'll still support the president on future initiatives, he said. And as far as he's concerned, the whole episode is "water under the boathouse."

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