In D.C., Watch Who Calls You 'Friend'

In this city, you call your rivals friends to be polite. Dignified. Diplomatic in a city that runs on diplomacy.

The phenomenon started here long ago, when truly decorous speech permeated the House and the Senate. (It still does in the British Parliament, where jabs at hated opponents routinely begin, "As my Right Honorable Friend has so wisely pointed out . . .")

"Part of it was functional, to maintain decorum. But then it bled over into the messy rest of the political world--into how folks do business," says Earl Bender, a Democratic political consultant.

"You learn very fast in Washington to calibrate each person's use of the term Good Friend . A lobbyist might meet you once and have a passing knowledge of you in the newspapers, and this language of inflation allows the lobbyist to refer to you as a Good Friend, which isn't the same thing as the good friend you drink a beer with after work in your undershirt."

At the same time, the best way to embarrass enemies is to link them through friendship to someone unpopular, someone like--well, these days, the President himself.

Only in Washington, where the word has been twisted beyond recognition, can being a close friend of the biggest guy in town be a bad thing.

"The truth is," says Bender, "being a close friend of the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, the most powerful man on Earth, is, was, and will always be a good thing."

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