The Presidents Club: A Good Book
After watching all of the living presidents at the Bush Library dedication last week, I decided it was time to read the Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy book, The Presidents Club. I am a couple of chapters in and marveling at the Truman-Hoover team as they worked to alleviate global starvation and misery after WW2, and worrying about the twists and turns of the Truman/Eisenhower relationship which is not turning out to be quite as satisfactory. It is obvious that the sense of being a member of the world’s most exclusive club does inspire a degree of fellowship we would never believe possible after a typical vicious mean dirty dishonest campaign. The book’s concluding paragraph describes it well however: All presidents are fellow travelers in the parallel universe where past, present, and future blur, where the terrain of regret looks very different and where there is hardly ever such a thing as a perfect outcome. They are the jurors who will not pronounce a verdict, because they know they have not heard all the evidence—and they are predisposed to be merciful. (p.527)
I am feeling predisposed to be merciful as well. Those five men at the Bush Library dedication who have been or are a U.S. President have made many decisions with which I disagree. For the most part though I believe they made them out of a desire to do what was best for the country and not for personal gain or revenge. As far as we know none of them have ‘disappeared’ their opponents or stashed vast amounts of wealth in places safe from the taxman’s grasp. Okay, so between them they have been responsible for a hell of a lot of death and destruction around the world but it was/is well-intentioned—right? After all, your death-dealing drone is my weapon of self-defense.
Last week, there they all were. The elderly and distinguished-looking Jimmy Carter with whom I have always had a little problem in that I do not trust religious fundamentalists of any faith. President Carter however has proven himself that rarest of birds, an authentic religious do-gooder. Also, I believe he is the only president to admit to lusting in his heart after someone other than his wife; while Bill Clinton seems to be the only living president to take that whole concept a step further. Who knows about the Bushes and Obama but their wives, at least in the case of Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama, appear to be women whose wrath you would not want to experience.
George Bush the elder appeared very frail. He spoke briefly and struggled to stand for a few seconds but he obviously is in serious decline. I felt badly for this almost-last-of-the-rational-and-dignified Republicans. He is an old-fashioned gentleman, member of the upper classes of noblesse oblige and good manners, an anachronism.
Bill Clinton was at his most disarming, joking about being ‘the black sheep of the Bush family’ because of his partnership with the elder George H.W. Bush and his good relations with the family. He is just such a natural politician—in the good sense of the word. At ease, articulate, by turns serious and funny. And talk about power couples; Bill and Hillary side-by-side probably represent more knowledge about the world and the machinations therein than the other four put together. It occurs to me we could do worse than have the Clintons and the Bushes keep getting elected by the Democrats and Republicans—sort of taking turns. Certainly Hillary and Jeb are the devils we know versus those we don’t lurking out there on the edges of rational thought.
I haven’t liked George W. a lot although I have always had a sneaking respect for his honesty about who he is and what he believes. Had he not been in thrall to Cheney and the neo-cons the Iraq war might not have happened…and after all that’s why most of us are so mad at him. Now, looking at the fact that there’s still a lot of nasty stuff going on in many places, much of it being planned and implemented by the U.S. under Barack Obama, I am inclined to give Bush the younger a break.
My friends will wonder at my saying this but I think George W. Bush and Barack Obama have quite a lot in common. Neither of them wanted or want to be part of the Washington crowd—Bush wanted to go to bed early and Obama doesn’t like that old-fashioned wheeling/dealing back-slapping way of doing business. They both seem completely at ease only in their own chosen environments with their own words—smart but sometimes passionless in Obama’s case and garbled as they often were coming from Bush.
I watched them all speak to us and the crowd and each other. Pleasantly, even earnestly, complimenting the man of the moment, George W. Bush. I appreciated them all for their sincere beliefs that they have done and will continue doing good for America…and me.
More about the book when I’ve read it all.