Obama, Cameron diversion: March Madness!

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at Mississippi Valley State - Western Kentucky first round NCAA tournament basketball game Tuesday
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spent a little downtime in Dayton, Ohio Tuesday night watching the NCAA tournament play-in game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky.

It came before a lavish welcoming ceremony Wednesday marking the formal start of a full state visit by Cameron - only the fifth such visit during the Obama administration so far.

He'd scarcely touched down in Washington when the president whisked him away a few hours later to Dayton to witness something uniquely American: March Madness.

Cameron said Mr. Obama helped him follow the game. "He was giving me some tips. He's going to help me fill out my bracket!" Cameron quipped.

"And he's going to teach me cricket!" the president added.

Not every foreign leader shares a ride on Air Force One and a hot dog on a casual night out with the president.

"I think it's reflective of the kind of relationship that we have with the United Kingdom and that previous presidents have had with previous prime ministers," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

They call it "the special relationship" -- a bond between the U.S. and Britain that goes beyond mutual interest.

"We have shared ideals, a shared vision, but more than anything else, we have a shared outlook of the heart," observes presidential historian Jay Winik.

The special relationship goes back decades. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were so close during the second world war that Churchill stayed in the White House for weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher shared the same conservative principles.

And when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Thatcher was close enough to the first President Bush to tell him, "Look, George -- this is no time to go wobbly."

Tony Blair styled himself politically after Bill Clinton. At one point, Mr. Clinton joked, "I'm sick of this, because he's seven years younger than I am and has no grey hair!"

And Blair was close to the second President Bush, who invited the Blairs to Camp David to get to know one another, and find out what they have in common. "We both use Colgate toothpaste," Mr. Bush said with a smirk.

Blair stood by George W. Bush as he invaded Iraq, even as some in Britain mocked Blair as "Bush's poodle.

Of course, the special relationship has had its share of ups and downs.

"Let's not forget," Winik notes, "that in 1812, it was the British who burned the Capitol, who burned the White House.

Carney joked wirth reporters that that the administration "almost" forgives the British for torching the White House.

On the agenda when Mr. Obama and Cameron meet - many major issues: Iran, Syria, and the pace of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and trade, among them.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent