I’ve been reading through the biographies of our presidents and so far have been enjoying getting to know them. It’s interesting to learn about their accomplishments, what drove them toward their failures, and how history has decided to label them.
But there’s one thing that their biographies tend to overlook.
We may learn about each man’s upbringing, his habits, his fierce run for the top job, what made him tick, etc. But even the most in-depth biography touches very little on the behind the scenes story of how each president interacted with one another before and after their arduous campaign battles against one another.
The Presidents Club by Nany Gibbs and Michael Duffy undertakes this task, with every post-WWII president (beginning with Truman and Hoover).
The wonder of this book is in the telling of how unlikely friendships – and rivalries – formed because of stark differences of ideology and running the White House.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is toward the end when we learn about the unforeseen friendship between Clinton and both Bushes, the iconic polar opposites in the political arena.
A colleague of mine a few years back became one of my very good friends, even though we had completely different political views – he a Carter supporter, and me a Bush man. Thing is, we never had a fight or argument. We explained our views and we listened to the other with respect and understanding – understanding that we each want what’s best for our families and the country. But, as he often said, we just have different ways of getting there.
Here is an eye-opening excerpt from The Presidents Club that I think every American can learn from.
“…George W. Bush did me one of the great favors of my life,” Clinton [said]. “He asked me not once, but twice, to work with his father. We took 7 trips together. This man who’d I’d always liked and respected and run against … I literally came to love … and I realize all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter … He can virtually do no wrong in my eyes …”
The Bush family paid Clinton back at this particular gathering, “conferring on him the highest possible honor: a family nickname … Laura Bush asked all twenty-seven Bushes in attendance to gather for a family picture … Clinton [was] standing quietly off to the side backstage, watching the big family take its places for a photographer when the call came from Neil Bush rang out: “Bill, Bill! Brother of Another Mother! Get in here!”
And so he did, taking his place in the back row, near some grandchildren. “Yeah,” Clinton mused, recalling the moment a few months later, “the family’s black sheep. Every family’s got one.”
Even in this party-split nation we can still live as one country, in unity and love for one another.