f you thirst for more American history knowledge, a suggestion is to read the book, “The Presidents Club,” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It’s about the relationship between sitting presidents and former presidents. The research that produced the story line is outstanding.
From Harry Truman and his close relationship with Herbert Hoover to President Barack Obama and his first-term ties to Bill Clinton, the book details how our presidents depended on former presidents for advice and service to their administrations. The book was published this year.
One of the most revealing facts is how politics was put aside in some of the relationships and how friendly a president became with a former president even though they were political enemies. Another fact discussed is that regardless of the experience a person has before becoming president, it’s impossible to be prepared to handle the awesome duties and responsibilities required of a president.
here is no experience you can get,” John F. Kennedy admitted after two years in office, “that can possibly prepare you adequately for the presidency.” Management plans have differed along with the styles they employed to administer the duties of the office. Some wanted to present a completely different approach in policies, but they found only limited success. As problems arose, they sought advice from former presidents, particularly in handling foreign affairs.
Coming out as one of the most astute politicians in the last 60 or so years, according to the book, is Bill Clinton. He, by the way, called Obama the “amateur” when he urged his wife to oppose the president for the Democratic nomination this year. Obama and Bill Clinton have formed a somewhat friendly relationship and the latter certainly helped Obama be re-elected.
rom Truman on to the present day, each of the presidents have on occasion found it necessary to defend members of The Presidents Club. While some initially were not “active” members of the club, they found it necessary at times to lean on the other members for support. Each in time developed a goal to defend the office of the president — to hold a firm grip on the executive branch and its authority, according to the book.
Of note is that all of the presidents since the days of Truman found themselves drawn to Lincoln, “the one who started the lowest, rose the highest, faced the great test, and triumphed.” The book reveals how the presidents sought to form an identity with Lincoln. “Abraham Lincoln was the archetype of presidential greatness,” the authors said.
Clinton said what he learned about Lincoln “was that when the country was coming apart at the seams and he was trying so hard to hold it together, he almost became so absorbed in the work and the mission and the suffering of others that it lifted the burden off of him.”
George W. Bush admired Lincoln so much that he read 17 different biographies of him while in office. He had Lincoln’s painting in the Oval Office. “I have sat here and thought about what it would be like to be the president when brother was fighting brother and cousin killing cousin. He clearly saw what needed to happen about keeping this country united.”
The book tells of the close relationship between Presidents Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Clinton called on Bush I for assistance and other presidents used the Bush-Clinton relationship for fact-finding missions and to raise millions of dollars to bring relief to other nations and for needs in America. Some people referred to Bush and Clinton as the “odd couple.” The authors suggest that Bush became the father that Clinton never had. Clinton has become part of the Bush family, according to the authors.
There are details about how Jimmy Carter, when called on to help in foreign policy, overstepped the bounds given to him in trying to broker deals that he had no authority to do. Richard Nixon, which will surprise many people, performed foreign policy chores with some success after he resigned as president. He was considered an expert in dealing with China and Russia and members of the club used his experience in helping them to arrive at decisions.
The book relates how presidents worry about their place in history. They defend some of their questionable decisions by saying that history will be the judge as to whether they used sound judgment.
“The Presidents Club” is a must read for those of you who want to add to your knowledge of American history.